British Open 2013: Golfers Who Made Leap to Elite at Muirfield

Richard LangfordCorrespondent IJuly 22, 2013

GULLANE, SCOTLAND - JULY 21:  Phil Mickelson of the United States holds the Claret Jug after winning the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield on July 21, 2013 in Gullane, Scotland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Major championships are the true proving grounds for the world's best golfers. Just ask Tiger Woods

Woods has had a dominant year while marching back to No. 1, but since he hasn't won a major in over five years, most are left to wonder or speculate about what is wrong with his game.

At this year's British Open, he had a golden opportunity to make a run at the title. Instead, he faltered on Sunday by offering up a 74—his worst round of the tournament. He wound up in a tie for sixth. 

That result does not warrant Tiger inclusion on this list. Not that he had to jump anywhere to be considered elite in the first place. The following list will focus on golfers who had a little more room to leap.

But first, checkout the final leaderboard from the 2013 British Open

Phil Mickelson

With his win, Phil Mickelson made a jump into the elite of the elite. With four major championships already under his belt heading into the British Open, Mickelson was already a surefire Hall of Famer and one of the best of his generation. 

Now, he has to not only be considered one of the best of his generation, but also of any generation. 

By adding a fifth major, Mickelson moved from a tie for 20th on the all-time major win list to 14th. However, just as important is that this was his first British Open. For years, Mickelson struggled in this event as his high-flying game was not well suited for links golf. 

He made it a priority to learn how to play well at The Open Championship, and he clearly pulled that off. There is now no doubting his status as a complete player. 

Also, Phil accomplished all of this in dramatic fashion. Sitting at two-over entering the final round, Mickelson was a bit of an afterthought. However, he shot 67 on Sunday on a day when that score barely seemed possible at the famed course. 

Mickelson put it all together Sunday, and now he can confidently say he is one of the best to ever play the game. 

Henrik Stenson

Let's consider this a return to the elite for Henrik Stenson. The Swede won The Players Championship in 2009 and he was a consistent factor. It seemed like it would only be a matter of time before he'd win a major.

However, he's been slowed by injuries and illness in the last three years. He announced he is back and must be considered a factor in every tournament he enters. 

Stenson shot a 70 on Sunday to wind up holding second place to himself. Besting his two thirds, he set a new high-water mark for himself in a major. It also follows an 18th-place finish at the Masters and a 21st at the U.S. Open. 

While those performances hinted at Stenson's march back to the current elite, this one confirmed it. 

Hunter Mahan 

Hunter Mahan's talent has been elite. He is one of the best ball-strikers on tour, and he has a deft touch to go with it. He's also had stretches of play that have shown he can be elite. However, he's never been able to sustain it. 

It was that inconsistency that kept him from being considered one of the game's current elite players. It also didn't help that he had been struggling in majors. 

Prior to this year's U.S. Open, Mahan's highest finish in a major since the start of 2011 was 19th. 

Now he has consecutive top 10s in majors, and he was a factor on Sunday in both. After tying for fourth at the U.S. Open, Mahan wound up tied for ninth at the British. In both, he shot a 75 in the final round, which is certainly worse than he must have been hoping for, but it wasn't a complete collapse either. 

Mahan will figure out how to close the door in a major before too long, but first he had to figure out how to make himself a consistent factor. At Muirfield, he proved he could do that.