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San Diego native Phil Mickelson won The Open Championship on Sunday with a stunning final-round score of 66 at Scotland’s Muirfield golf course. Despite starting the day five shots back of the lead, and with the daunting, hardpan 18 holes of Scottish links before him, Mickelson birdied four of the final six holes to win his first British Open.
“I’m playing some of the best golf of my career, and today was one of the best rounds I’ve ever played,” Mickelson said in a post-tournament interview. “It’s the best I’ve ever putted — it just was going in the hole.”
The late charge enabled Rancho Santa Fe resident Mickelson to win by three strokes over his closet competitor, Henrik Stenson. Lee Westwood, the leader after three rounds, squandered his opportunity with a final round of 75. Tiger Woods entered Sunday just two back of the lead but couldn’t match Mickelson’s brilliance either, posting a 74.
The winning three-under on the legendarily difficult links of Muirfield was the only score under par for the tournament.
Mickelson hit an array of dazzling shots in the final round, none that appeared more satisfying to the otherwise right-handed, but left-handed-playing golfer nicknamed “Lefty,” than the long birdie putt he rolled in on the 18th green. He pumped his arms skyward, tilting his head back with eyes closed in exultation in a moment replayed over and over. Though the previous leaders were still playing out their remaining holes, with a three-shot lead, Mickelson knew he had won the tournament.
After the customary post-round handshakes, Mickelson found his wife and three children waiting behind the rope line, and they shared a long embrace.
The victory further elevated Mickelson as one of the great professional golfers in history. In the televised post-match interview, ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi noted that he was one step closer to the elusive Grand Slam of major wins. Mickelson quickly added, “And if six seconds counted as a win, I’d have all four of ’em.”
Only Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen have won all four major championships (PGA Championship, U.S. Open, British Open and The Masters).
Mickelson’s devotion to family emerged as a central theme leading up to last month’s U.S. Open, when he traversed the country in order to be in Carlsbad for his daughter Amanda’s eighth-grade graduation speech. He red-eyed back east in time to post a first round 67 and led by one stroke heading into the final round before faltering for another second-place finish.
With the ghosts of his previous U.S. Open meltdowns hovering over his shoulder, but the monkey of the Claret Jug off his back, Mickelson will be aiming for golf immortality next June in Pinehurst, N.C.