COMMENTARY | It’s fitting Phil Mickelson won this Open. The course. The setup. The scoring. It all favored the all-time great who’d be voted least likely to hoist the Claret Jug.
But it really all makes sense.
This Open Championship was more like a U.S. Open than the R&A’s signature tournament. The conditions were firm and fast. At times, Muirfield played on the edge of fairness.
Like Shinnecock Hills in 2004, the greens had to be watered — fortunately, not in the middle of a round — to keep them alive and playable.
Like almost every U.S. Open, players, including Mickelson, were complaining about the setup and the outcomes. Like Merion, the final five holes spelled doom for so many players in the field.
In typical U.S. Open fashion, just a single player finished under par for the week: the champion.
Of course Phil Mickelson won this week. He won a U.S. Open on Scottish soil.
The pedigree of Open champions at Muirfield foretold it — Nicklaus, Watson, Faldo twice, Trevino. Every Open winner at Muirfield since World War II is in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Mickelson is, too.
So many thought it was the other soon-to-be Hall-of-Famer, Tiger Woods, that would prevail on Sunday. They were wrong. It was Lefty’s time.
By taking the third leg of the career Grand Slam in the least likely of places — and he only had two choices left — Mickelson only furthers the story of his agony in the national Open. He notched his sixth runner-up U.S. Open finish just a month ago at Merion. Mickelson cannot seem to win the major he longs for the most. But next June, the U.S. Open returns to the site where his second-best string began in 1999: Pinehurst No. 2.
It’s true; Pinehurst No. 2 is not the same place it was when Mickelson missed a crucial putt on the 71st hole to come up short against Payne Stewart. It’s been reimagined in a “Back to the Future” kind of way by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. Curiously, the restoration to Donald Ross’ original design eliminated all of the rough, replacing it with tufts of high grass more reminiscent of the architect’s Scottish homeland than North Carolina.
It’s also true; Phil Mickelson is a different man than 15 years ago. His hair is longer. He has three kids. He no longer needs to carry a beeper. He has matured, mellowed even. The kid who grew up wanting to play all of the difficult shots has learned how to play intelligent, patient golf.
Maybe, then, this is what it will take for Mickelson to finally win the U.S. Open. Mickelson had to win his first major with an epic back nine at Augusta National, where birdies and eagles were expected, not the rarity. Then he had to win arguably the least-heralded major in some of its toughest conditions. He then had to win feeling comfortable not only with winning in consecutive weeks, but also with an unconventional 14-club makeup. Then he had to win a U.S. Open setup — but not at the U.S. Open.
There really is nothing left for Phil to learn to win the major he wants the most. Forget the old Pinehurst No. 2, Bethpage Black (twice), Shinnecock, Winged Foot and Merion. He has everything he needs to finally claim the U.S. Open.
One Sunday ago, Phil Mickelson won the Scottish Open and promptly dropped the trophy. Perhaps that was a Freudian slip, of a physical nature, knowing what was to come at Muirfield.
Who knows what will come next June at Pinehurst No. 2, but the countdown to Mickelson’s ultimate fulfillment starts now.