Phil Mickelson is a sayer of sooths.
After the third round of the 2013 British Open, Mickelson sat down with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi and said he thought the champion would finish at even par, with one over par good enough to get into a playoff. Mickelson said if he could shoot a round in the 60s—he was four back at the time and finished the third round five off the lead—he would put himself in a position to win.
Rinaldi cackled at the absurdity of it all—not only that Mickelson could know the number he would need on Sunday to win the major championship no one—including Phil—ever thought he would win, but also that Mickelson knew the number before a dozen players had even finished their rounds for the day.
It turns out, he was right. Of course he was right.
Mickelson shot his round in the 60s. Had Phil not posted a tournament-best 66, including a dazzling 32 on the second nine, Henrik Stenson's even par would have won the Claret Jug, setting up a theoretical playoff had Stenson fallen back to one over.
Stenson, who placed second on an amazingly stacked leaderboard, was one stroke ahead of Ian Poulter, Adam Scott and Lee Westwood, who finished at one over par. Westwood held a two shot lead after 54 holes and was five ahead of Mickelson but finished four back of the champion.
Phil Mickelson. British Open champion. Sayer of sooths.
Mickelson has always been one of the great talkers in golf. Picking a score on Sunday he would need to shoot to get back into contention in a major is nothing new for Phil, though this is the first time he's actually managed to go out and shoot it.
Phil said he needed a round in the 60s, but even he couldn't have looked at the setup at Muirfield on Sunday, with all the pressure of the final round of a major, and expect to card a 66. Even he's not that confident.
Except he was. Mickelson went out and shot one of the best rounds of his life, which is saying something for one of the greatest golfers in the game's long and illustrious history. During the championship ceremony, he said:
This is a win that I never knew in my career if I would be equipped, if I would have the shots, if I had the opportunity to win a tournament here. To do it, to play some of the best golf and probably the best round of my career, and break through and capture this Claret Jug, is probably the most fulfilling moment of my career because it was something I wasn't sure I'd be able to ever do.
That was Mickelson at his most honest and humble. It's not often you can put the word humble in the same sentence as Mickelson. The man is great, and he will certainly let you know it.
As confident as he was coming into the British Open after winning the Scottish Open last week, it almost feels like Phil says all those ridiculously brazen and overconfident things to convince himself they are true, not us.
He had figured out the secret to his putting. He was playing the best golf of his career. He has developed a love for links golf after so many years of struggling at the Open. If there was one course on the British Open circuit he had the best chance to conquer, it was Muirfield. These are all things Mickelson was trying to convince someone, everyone, were true.
It sounded nice in the press room, but nobody really believed him, did they? Phil didn't even believe himself, did he?
We all believe it now. There is no reason to ever doubt him again.
After Mickelson said at the beginning of the week he would be the first player to win back-to-back tournaments including a major since, well, he had done it...he did it again.
Phil said he was putting "phenomenally," even after a four putt on the 16th green on Friday, and he proved on Sunday how right he was...again.
Mickelson finally made the putts he needed in order take over the leaderboard, draining key putts on 13 and 14 before draining a ticklish downhill slider on 18 to give himself an ultimately unnecessary cushion.
Even the putts Phil missed on Sunday were left in spots where par or birdie, like on the 17th hole, seemed like tap-ins.
When Phil said he had a round in the 60s in him on Sunday, he was right. Again and again and again, he was right.
"You've got to throw your hands up sometimes, haven't you," Lee Westwood told Rinaldi on the ESPN telecast. "To birdie four of the last six in any round is good...in these conditions, to these flags, last round of the Open Championship is pretty special."
Mickelson's week wasn't entirely perfect. After a first-round 69, Mickelson suggested the R&A should check their "ego" at the door when setting up the course the rest of the week. He backed off those comments on Friday, saying the setup on most of the holes was stellar, but maybe, just maybe, Phil got his point across.
The greens slowed down immensely over the weekend. Tiger Woods, who admitted he was never able to figure out the speed on Saturday and Sunday, suggested after his round on Saturday that the R&A may not have even mowed or rolled the greens between rounds.
After his round on Sunday, Woods said he felt the greens got even slower, tipping his hat to Mickelson for figuring them out when most of the other contenders weren't able to do the same.
Phil's "ego" comment may have rubbed people the wrong way, but what if it worked? What if another outlandish Mickelson comment turned out to be, well, exactly the right thing to say?
Of course, his final comments about the R&A left nothing with which to quibble: "I want to thank the R&A for the great job they did and the membership here at Muirfield for setting up such a wonderful golf course—a very demanding, difficult test—and I just could not be more proud to be your champion."
Everything sounds right when you're holding the Claret Jug.
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