Open Championship 2013: Biggest Lessons Learned About World's Best at Muirfield
Perhaps you can teach an old dog new tricks after all.
After years of ineptitude on links golf courses, Phil Mickelson won the 2013 Open Championship just a week after winning the 2013 Scottish Open.
Mickelson shot a final-round 66 to finish at three-under par and win the prestigious tournament by three shots over the field, with Henrik Stenson finishing in second place all by himself at even par.
It was Mickelson's first British Open title, and his performance on Sunday at Muirfield will go down as one of the greatest final-round feats in Open Championship history.
While Mickelson had the round of his life, there were other golfers who didn't fare as well.
Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood both piddled away chances of winning the tournament with poor efforts on Sunday, while Rory McIlroy failed to even make it to the weekend.
The tournament gave golf enthusiasts plenty to chew on with the PGA Championship a couple of weeks away. With that in mind, here are the biggest lessons learned from the action out at Muirfield this past weekend.
Phil Mickelson is Still a Magician
Just when you thought Mickelson's career was perhaps turning a bit sour, he pulled off his greatest trick to date. Having never before won a tournament in the United Kingdom and having posted just two top-10 finishes at the British Open, Mickelson wasn't considered a big threat to win at Muirfield this year.
Then, he stunned the field at the 2013 Scottish Open, shooting 17-under par and winning a playoff over Branden Grace with a gorgeous pitch shot into the green for a tap-in birdie.
Heading into Sunday's final round, Mickelson was sitting in contention but five strokes off the lead, which was held by Lee Westwood, who was three-under par. Through 12 holes, Mickelson had only gained one shot and was at one-over par.
Then, he discovered his inner Scotsman and fired off four birdies in his final six holes to win the tournament.
Nobody in the field could match Mickelson's final round, and his 66 tied Zach Johnson for the low round of the tournament.
And he did it on Sunday, coming from way back in the field.
Mickelson's game hasn't turned sour. If anything, his game has aged like a fine wine, and it's not inconceivable to think he'll win a few more major championships before he's finished.
Tiger Woods Still Can't Win a Major Coming from Behind
Tiger Woods is the greatest front-runner in the history of golf, as noted by Johnette Howard of ESPN.com:
Every major championship that Woods has won—all 14 of them—came after he started with the lead on Sunday. Overall, only six of Woods' 71 PGA Tour career titles have come when he was trailing by three shots or more entering the final round.
In his pursuit of his ever-elusive 15th major title, Woods has come close a few times in the past five-plus years, posting nine top-10 finishes.
After another disappointing final round on Sunday led to another top-10 finish, Luke Elvy of Golf Australia noted Woods' record of never coming from behind to win a major:
Tiger Woods will keep one record in tact today. Never has come from behind to win a major. Incredible. #TheOpen— Luke Elvy (@elvisgolf) July 21, 2013
Given the way Woods has put himself in contention, many believe (Woods included) that he'll break through and finally win a major coming from behind at some point. But to this point, when Woods is behind on Sunday morning, he usually looks rather average when attempting to make a late charge up the board to claim victory.
Rory McIlroy Is Lost
The 2013 PGA season hasn't been kind to McIlroy, who has yet to win a tournament this season. He missed the cut at Muirfield, logging a score of 12-over par in the first two rounds.
But not winning could be bearable if he was at least putting himself in position to win. Unfortunately, McIlroy's game has fallen to pieces the past few months, and his comments at Muirfield don't bode well for his immediate future.
After his horrifying round of 78 on Thursday, the former No. 1 player in the world spoke about his lack of focus, as noted by Derek Lawrenson of the Daily Mail:
I’m just playing thoughtless, brain-dead golf and I feel like I have been playing like that for the last couple of months...It has nothing to do with technique, it is all mental. Sometimes I feel like I am walking around out there and I am unconscious. I’m trying to focus and trying to concentrate, but I really can’t fathom it at the minute. It is a very alien feeling, something I’ve never felt before.
Will McIlroy improve soon, or will his game get worse before it gets better?
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of McIlroy's heart-wrenching confession is the fact that he's hit the nail on the head but doesn't appear to want to listen to anyone's advice on the subject.
Sir Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus both had words of advice for the young phenom. But he's chosen at this time to reject such advice or any notion that he needs psychological help, as noted by Peter Higgs of the Daily Mail, saying, "I can sort it out myself."
Time will tell if McIlroy can, in fact, "sort it out" himself. At this time, however, it appears he's completely lost—both on and off the golf course.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78
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