The story from Muirfield was not how Englishman Lee Westwood, who is now 0-for-62 in PGA Tour majors, failed to hold a two-stroke lead heading into the final round. The story was not how Tiger Woods let another major slip from his progressively loosening grasp, leaving him stuck on 14 for his career and four behind Jack Nicklaus. The story was not the number of shots that rolled over the impossibly fast greens or fell into one of the many impossibly deep bunkers.
When the final putt had been rolled in to conclude the final round from Muirfield in Gullane, Scotland, the story of the 2013 Open Championship was simply about the man they call “Lefty.”
Phil Mickelson is one of the top golfers of the past two decades, but for so long, victories at the majors eluded him like a curse. After a dozen trying years, Mickelson finally broke through and won his first: the 2004 Masters. With a Masters victory under his belt, Mickelson has gone on to add two more green jackets and a PGA Championship. But the Open Championship, also known as the British Open, has been anything but kind to the 43-year-old San Diegan.
Open Championships are played on hard links-style golf courses that let the ball roll for miles and reward players who find the fairway. Links courses are unlike the softer American-style courses that allow the ball to stop on a dime, thus rewarding precision around the greens. Mickelson’s game has been groomed for the American courses, while links courses all but neutralize his extraordinary wedge play.
Entering the final round of the Open Championship, the feeling was that Mickelson would once again fly back to the States disappointed and empty-handed. Trailing by five strokes and tasked with a daunting comeback at a major that he had historically struggled in, Mickelson seemed doomed as Ivor Robson, the famous first-tee announcer of the Open Championship, announced his name for his 8:30 a.m. final-round tee time with playing partner Francesco Molinari.
The Open Championship is known for its natural beauty. With vast, open layouts that are typically set seaside, the scenery is oftentimes more breathtaking than the actual play on the course. But what Mickelson did next on the golf course was truly beautiful in its own right.
Mickelson birdied the par-5 fifth hole and was immediately in the hunt. With Woods and Adam Scott faltering from the very first hole of the final round, the top of the leaderboard opened up like the usually ubiquitous rains of the Open Championship. Another birdie on the par-5 ninth brought Mickelson to two-under after the front nine.
Starting off the back nine with a bogey, Mickelson fell off of his pace but certainly not out of the hunt. In fact, there was something in the warm 70-degree air that just felt like it was his day. Breaking his personal Open Championship curse on the hallowed grounds of Muirfield seemed not just possible; it seemed inevitable.
After Mickelson shot par on the next two holes, the battle for the Open Championship was ultimately down to him and Henrik Stenson. With six holes left, the tournament was one of theirs for the taking.
Before Stenson could even look up, Mickelson put together a six-hole stretch that will go down in golf lore as one of the best ever in a major. Stringing together four birdies over the final six holes to take a tournament-leading three-under score into the clubhouse, Mickelson had taken it.
“That was a bit sneaky of him,” Stenson told reporters after his round.
Mickelson knew that the round he had put together was good enough to win. After rolling in his final birdie on the final hole of the day, Mickelson raised his arms over his head with his putter still grasped tightly in his right hand to the roar of a crowd that understood the magnitude of the accomplishment.
With his arms still raised, Mickelson was met by his caddie of 21 years, Jim “Bones” Mackay. The two men hugged, and Bones shed tears of happiness onto Lefty’s shoulder; the monkey was finally off Mickelson’s back.
Stenson went on to bogey back-to-back holes to drop back to even par before adding a late birdie, and it was Mickelson who raised the Claret Jug at the end of a long week in Scotland. The win marked his first in the Open Championship and his fifth career major. The win immediately vaulted Mickelson’s name into the conversation as one of the top 10 golfers of all time.
The man used to be “Tiger’s No. 2,” but Mickelson has now won two majors since Woods’ last major victory at the 2008 U.S. Open. No longer stuck behind Woods’ mountainous shadow, Mickelson is now enjoying the prime of his career once robbed from him by his longtime rival.
America has been searching for a man to take the PGA Tour by the reins for five years now. The story from Muirfield was that America has found its man: Lefty.