CLUTCHING the Claret Jug as though he was scared someone might snatch it away from him, Phil Mickelson last night set his sights on becoming only the sixth member of golf’s career “Grand Slam Club” after a storming finish to win the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield.
281 Phil Mickelson (USA) 69 74 72 66 (£945,000)
284 Henrik Stenson (Swe) 70 70 74 70 (£545,000)
285 Adam Scott (Aus) 71 72 70 72, Ian Poulter 72 71 75 67, Lee Westwood 72 68 70 75 (£280,833)
286 Tiger Woods (USA) 69 71 72 74, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 71 73 72 70, Zach Johnson (USA) 66 75 73 72 (£163,333)
Five behind overnight leader Lee Westwood at the start of the final round in East Lothian, the 43-year-old American carded a closing five-under-par 66, equalling the lowest round of the week, to claim his fifth major with a three-stroke win over Sweden’s Henrik Stenson.
The first left-hander to win the Open since New Zealander Bob Charles exactly 50 years ago, it completed a dream double for Mickelson after his dramatic play-off victory in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart a week earlier. It earned him a cheque for £945,000, could lift him from fifth to second in the world rankings today and leaves him only needing the US Open to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as career Grand Slam winners in the modern era.
“Winning this great championship is an amazing feeling,” said Mickelson after recording four birdies in his last six holes over one of the toughest closing stretches in the game. “I felt I needed to bring my ‘A’ game today – and I did.
“To play probably the best round of my career, to hit some of the best shots I’ve ever hit and to putt better than I’ve ever putted is a great feeling and to have so many people here, including (wife) Amy and (children) Amanda, Sophia and Evan, makes it a day I’ll always cherish.
“Winning at Castle Stuart was big for me – playing well in the final day in difficult conditions gave me the confidence that I could play some of my best golf in links conditions – but in seven days it has gone down considerably,” joked Mickelson in trying to illustrate the magnitude of his latest success.
“I think that if I’m able to win the US Open and complete the career Grand Slam, that’s the sign of a complete great player. I’m a leg away. It’s been a tough leg for me (with six second-place finishes) but I’m very hopeful, especially as this championship has been harder for me.”
Mickelson, who follows in the spikemarks of some of the game’s greatest names by winning at the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, suffered his latest US Open disappointment at Merion less than a month ago.
“I used that as motivation,” he declared after becoming only the second player after Lee Trevino in 1971 to win the R&A’s flagship event the week following a regular Tour victory. It was the second time Mickelson had done it in his career, having won the Bell South Classic then The Masters back-to-back in 2006.
“You have to be resilient in this game because losing is such a big part of it,” he added. “After the US Open, I could easily have gone south – I was so deflated I’d have a hard time coming back. But I’d been playing some of the best golf of my career and I didn’t want it to stop me from potential victories this year.
“I worked a little bit harder and, in a matter of a month, I’ve managed to change entirely the way I feel. This is a special moment to be part of the great history of this championship. This has been the biggest challenge in my career to win this championship and capture this trophy.”
The new champion described his final flourish, which included birdies at the final two holes, as “awesome” and putting on the last day as “phenomenal”. He also reiterated that he’d be heading to Royal Aberdeen next July to defend the Scottish Open title before heading to Hoylake in 12 months’ time as the defending Open champion.
Westwood, bidding to become the event’s first English winner since Nick Faldo in 1992, briefly led by three shots after a birdie at the fifth, but the 40-year-old had to settle for a share of third with fast-finishing compatriot Ian Poulter (67) and Masters champion Adam Scott (72) after a closing 75.
“Phil must have played really well. Five under was a good round of golf this afternoon,” said Westwood. “You birdie four of the last six round here any day is good going, but to do it today in the last round of a major is an even better finish.”
A last-day attendance of 29,247 took the total for the week to 142,036 – more than 18,000 down on the figure for the last Open at Muirfield in 2002.
PHIL MICKELSON FACTFILE
1970: Born June 16 in San Diego, California.
1990: Wins US Amateur, first left-hander to do so.
1991: Wins first PGA Tour title, while still an amateur, at Northern Telecom Open.
1992: Turns professional.
1993: Wins for first time as a professional at Buick Invitational of California.
1995: September 24 - Makes first of nine Ryder Cup appearances but is on the losing side at Oak Hill.
1996: Wins four PGA Tour tournaments.
1997: September 28 - Again on the losing side in the Ryder Cup at Valderrama.
1999: September 26 - Helps United States win Ryder Cup at Brookline with two points from four matches.
2004: April 11 - Wins first major title at US Masters, carding a closing 69 at Augusta to beat Ernie Els by a shot.
2005: August 19 - Wins second major in US PGA Championship at Baltusrol, finishing a shot ahead of Thomas Bjorn and Steve Elkington.
2006: April 9 - Wins Masters for second time by two shots from Tim Clark.
2008: September 21: Member of winning Ryder Cup team at Valhalla, despite only winning two points from five matches.
2010: April 11: Wins third Masters title in emotional circumstances, embracing his wife Amy, who was battling breast cancer, on final green.
2012: September 30 - Wins three points from four in his record ninth Ryder Cup appearance at Medinah but crucially loses to Justin Rose on final day as Europe secure a dramatic win from 10-6 down.
2013: June 16 - Finishes second to Rose in US Open at Merion, a record sixth runners-up finish in the event on his 43rd birthday.
July 21 - Wins Open Championship at Muirfield with brilliant final round of 66.