Phil Malley: Phil Mickelson a deserving winner

When Muirfield’s brutal fairways and glassy greens had done their worst, it was Phil Mickelson, the American who once thought he could not play links golf, who was left standing head and shoulders above the rest as he won his first Open championship and his fifth major at the age of 43.

Phil Mickels and his caddie Jim Mackay. Picture: Getty

And no-one could say that the most testing Open in years did not go to the most deserving golfer.

Mickelson shot a final round 66, the lowest of the week and no sportsman can do more than give of his best when it matters the most. To give of his best when all around where struggling to cope on the nerviest of afternoons.

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We can forgive Mickelson for his comments on the opening day when he criticised the organisers, implying that some pin positions were unplayable, for two reasons.

One, because he apologised immediately and two, because he served up such a masterclass of magical golf that there really were no arguments.

The win means Mickelson has now won three of the four majors, the only one to elude him being the US Open. That might yet come even with his advancing years in sporting terms. But let’s spare a thought for another 40-year-old in the shape of Lee Westwood.

Westwood started the day with a two-shot lead and looked to have his best chance of winning the major which confers sporting immortality.

There wasn’t an Englishman who wasn’t pulling for him. He had moved his family to Florida, changed coaches, switched caddies, worked tirelessly on his putting with former Open winner Ian Baker-Finch.

He had undergone such upheaval for one reason. To win a major. To join 40-somethings Ernie Els and Darren Clarke, who had won the Claret Jug in the last two years when some said their best days were behind them.

Westwood did not implode, but he was unsteady from tee to green, three bogeys on the front nine as he visited bunkers and rough and places reserved for the gallery. He clung in, spurred on by a supportive crowd, but let’s be honest, Westwood wilted, his 75 nine shots adrift of Mickelson’s on the day.

And let no-one say it had anything to do with the dying greens, glassy fairways and tough pin positions. It didn’t. After all, winning the greatest prize in golf is not supposed to be easy.

Muirfield was tricky, capricious, 
a tantalising mixture of bogeys and birdies and a bunched leaderboard which had the winner continually in doubt. Nerves were jangling and adrenalin was coursing.

No more so than in the veins of Ian Poulter, who went on one of those surges we have come to associate with him at the Ryder Cup, but his score of 67 wasn’t quite enough.

Adam Scott briefly fluttered on his own at the top of the leaderboard, only to drop four shots in a row when it mattered most, rather like he did last year, while Tiger Woods’ chase for more 
majors looks even more forlorn.

In Phil Mickelson, Muirfield had 
delivered a deserving champion.