The British Open was the major championship Phil Mickelson was never going to win. With six holes left in the 2013 Open Championship, that bet looked safe for at least another year.
But this is Lefty we're talking about—the king of making something out of nothing.
The popular American did just that during a magical back nine sprint at Muirfield on Sunday to win the by three shots over Henrik Stenson and capture the elusive Claret Jug that not even Mickelson himself was truly convinced he would ever hold.
Mickelson began the day five shots off the lead and believed by many to be on the outside looking in. Turns out he had the field exactly where he wanted them.
With little warning and in a moment’s notice, Mickelson became the links player he always wondered if he could be and began to take apart the difficult Muirfield back nine. Shot by shot, putt by putt, he brought the legendary Muirfield course to its knees, right along with the talented field of contenders he left in his wake.
"This is such an accomplishment for me," Mickelson said, per the Associated Press. "I never knew if I'd be able to develop the game and the shots to play links golf effectively. To play what is arguably the best round of my career, to putt the way I putted, to shoot the round of my life...it just feels amazing to win the claret jug."
Mickelson won the Scottish Open last week and had begun showing signs of gaining more comfort on the unique layout. Doubts as to whether he could put it all together under the pressure of a British Open final round, however, persisted.
Consider them answered.
In the triumphant six-hole stretch, Mickelson began shaping approaches like an expert, landing them in the right positions to challenge difficult-to-reach hole locations. His approach on the par-three 13th landed within eight feet of the hole and began his birdie run.
His three-wood from the fairway on the par-five 17th got him on the green in two and resulted in an easy tap-in birdie. The approach shot he hit on 18 that finished some 10 feet from the hole will be in his career highlight reel.
As if that wasn't enough, Mickelson began reading putts like he grew up on the challenging greens at Muirfield, seeing the lines as clear as day and rolling the putts true to their locations. This just one day after missing a number of birdie putts to stall his third-round progress.
Not on Sunday. Not on the crucial back nine. On the 14th he rolled a masterful 20-footer dead into the hole. On the 16th he added a challenging 10-footer for par to keep his momentum going.
As a result, Mickelson went on a run that turned a back-nine deficit into a a three-shot triumph that is the most career-defining alongside his 2004 Masters victory.
“Today was one of the best rounds I've ever played and it’s the best I ever putted,” Mickelson told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi minutes after the round was completed. “I was just seeing the line, the ball was rolling... it was going in the hole. It was just an incredible day on the greens.”
No, Sunday belong to newly minted “Links Lefty.”
Considering the effort came so close to his heartbreaking loss at the U.S. Open in which he shot a final round 74 to lose to Justin Rose, it makes the triumph all the more impressive—and meaningful—for Mickelson.
“I can’t explain the feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment to win this tournament,” said Mickelson, who has finished second six times in the U.S. Open. “Today will be one of the most memorable rounds of golf I’ve ever played.”
As a result of that amazing effort, Mickelson is three-quarters of the way to a career grand slam and will have an opportunity to accomplish that significant feat in the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.
Considering what Mickelson showed us on the final eight holes at Muirfield on Sunday, it’s never safe to bet against him.
Even at the Open Championship, of all places.