Before play began on the Sunday of the 2013 British Open, nobody was talking about Phil Mickelson.
They were mostly talking about the four classy players at even-par or better: Lee Westwood (-3), Tiger Woods (-1), Hunter Mahan (-1), and Adam Scott (E). Going into the final day, conventional wisdom stated that the winner was likely coming from this group. But sometimes golf manages to turn conventionality on its head. Trends and narratives can change in a heartbeat. On Sunday, it only took six holes.
To be sure, Mickelson was within striking distance at 2-over going into the final day but he would have had to leapfrog eight players, half of which were major winners, to claim the Claret Jug.
And leapfrog he did. He ended up blazing his way to the top of the leaderboard, emphatically claiming the tournament by three shots.
On Monday morning, a perhaps-groggy Mickelson woke up with three legs of the career grand slam (Masters, PGA Championship, British Open). Only the US Open has eluded him, to the tune of six runner-up finishes.
Here are some thoughts on championship Sunday at the Open:
- Mickelson came up with one of the most legendary final rounds ever at a major championship. He shot a 5-under 66, going 4-under over his last six holes, to snatch the trophy from his challengers. In cold and blustery conditions, his 66 was six shots better than Scott, eight shots better than Woods and nine shots better than Mahan and Westwood. The four guys at the top of the leaderboard stumbled while Mickelson charged. It was such an impressive number to post that everybody gave him the title after his round even though his pursuers had a few holes left to play. Everybody knew that 3-under wouldn’t be touched. Everybody knew it was over. Not only that, it ended up being the only score under-par.
- When discussing what happened on Sunday, bringing the US Open into the discussion is unavoidable. Mickelson has a whopping six second-place finishes at his national Open. He’s had enough heartbreak at that tournament to last him a lifetime. Not only that, he was coming off his most recent heartbreaking defeat at the US Open this past June, another runner-up finish after holding the 54-hole lead. Now? To be sure, he has an Open title to his name. This one must feel sweet but it’s not the Open title he covets most. One thing’s for sure. At every US Open from now on, Mickelson will be chasing the career grand slam. I think he pulls it off. And I couldn’t think of a more fitting tournament to do it at.
- Mickelson hugging his family off the 18th green was one of the most touching moments I’ve witnessed in all of golf. You normally don’t see too many tears from Mickelson but something about this tournament spurred them on. No matter what caused them this time, a photo of that Mickelson family bear hug should be framed and hung in their living room.
- Has Westwood become the British equivalent to Mickelson before his major breakthrough at the 2004 Masters? It would appear so. Likely the best player without a major, he leads the field in close calls at the four big tournaments without ever breaking through. He’s finished second twice, third six times, and top-five ten times. This time, he led by two shots going into Sunday and finished four strokes behind the winner. Westwood is still without that major. He’s 40 years old so he’s still got some time but the clock is ticking.
- And what to say of Tiger Woods? Over his major-less streak, dating back to 2008, Woods seems to almost always put himself in contention, only to stumble down the stretch. The shots and putts we’ve come so accustomed to seeing him pull off just aren’t happening anymore. You have to figure it’s somewhat mental. The pressure of winning his first major in about five years. The pressure of chasing down Jack Nicklaus’ major record with 40 years old staring him in the face. It’s not even the sex scandal anymore. This is something different. It should be mentioned that most players would be satisfied with Woods’ finishes in the recent majors. But you know that he’s not. He’s got one goal and one goal only: To get to 18 (or 19) major titles. Much like Westwood, but in an entirely different way, the clock is ticking.