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Phil the Thrill Adds to Muirfield Lore
Prior to the start of the 142nd Open Championship, Muirfield and its moniker as "The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers' already had considerable cachet in the sports world. After all, the historic links in East Lothian, Scotland, has hosted 16 of the tournaments, resulting in such illustrious champions as Harry Vardon, James Braid, Walter Hagen, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els.
Now, with the 2013 Open Championship complete, Phil Mickelson gets to add his name alongside those luminaries. In retrospect, the 43-year-old Southern California native came into the Muirfield Open on a perfect high note: the week prior he won the Scottish Open, played at a newer links course, Castle Stuart, in the highlands of Inverness.
Despite that victory - which came after he three-putted on the 72nd hole for a bogey that tied Branden Grace in regulation, followed by a birdie on the first playoff hole to beat the South African, Mickelson hadn't enjoyed much success on UK links, saying last week before the Open that he's had a "hate-love" relationship: "I used to hate it, but now I love it."
That attitudinal flip - and his success at Castle Stuart, where the course was much more amenable to scoring than the hard-and-fast Muirfield with its confounding winds, certainly contributed to Mickelson's breakthrough victory Sunday, when he matched the low round of the championship - a 5-under 66 to overcome a five-stroke deficit and roll to a three-shot victory over many of golf's top-ranked players.
"Winning Castle Stuart, at the time, you know, was a big win for me," Mickelson told reporters after collecting the Claret Jug, $1.43 million and being dubbed "Champion Golfer of the Year."
"It was a special week for me last week because I was playing so well. It gave me confidence heading into this week. It was exactly what I needed to propel me into this championship. And playing well in that final day in difficult conditions gave me the confidence that I could play some of my best golf on links conditions. And I did. I mean, today was as good as I could play. It was one of the best rounds I've ever played."
After Mickelson's secured his sixth birdie of the day on the 18th - and fourth in the final six holes - he raised his arms in celebration and gave longtime caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay a long, emotional hug. Later, during the awards ceremony, an ebullient Mickelson said, "I just could be no more proud to be your champion.
"I never knew in my career if I'd be equipped, if I would have the shots, if I would have the opportunity to win a tournament here. And to do it, to play some of the best golf, probably the best round of my career, and break through and capture this Claret Jug is probably the most fulfilling moment of my career."
The major was Mickelson's fifth, with those coming in the Open and PGA championships and the Masters. The only title missing from his career Grand Slam is the elusive U.S. Open, where he's been the runner-up a record six times, including last month at Merion near Philadelphia. That record has indisputably established "Lefty" as one of the best "gamers" in golf history.
He's also the second left-hander to win the British Open, joining 1963 champion Bob Charles, and the oldest player to win it in 46 years - Roberto de Vicenzo was 44 in 1967.
Still clutching the Claret Jug - which took 20 starts in the Open Championship for him to secure, Mickelson sat down with reporters and discussed one of the defining moments of his long and stellar career. Here's what he had to say.
MODERATOR: I'd just like to welcome the 2013 Open champion, Phil Mickelson. Phil, what a fantastic achievement today, you came from five behind. I heard you mention on television this is one of the best rounds, if not the best round, of your career. Can you sum up how you feel.
PHIL MICKELSON: This is just an amazing feeling winning this great championship. And to play probably the best round of my career and hit some of the best shots that I've ever hit. Certainly putt better than I've ever putted. You know, I was getting ready for today and I just thought I need to bring my "A" game today. I just need to bring it. I need to show up and play some of my best golf. And I did. I played some of the best golf of my career. It feels amazing to have this championship. And then to make it even more special, to have Amy, Amanda, Sophia, Evan here; to share this with Bones; to have Steve Loy who's been with me back from my college days all the way through; to have Butch Harmon here to share this moment, it really is special. It's a day that I'll always cherish, always remember.
Q. As that back nine was going on, you are a guy that gets energized by the big stage and you're moving up the leaderboard and hitting the ball well. Can you talk about the wave that started and when it started, and what that was like as it progressed?
PHIL MICKELSON: You know, I was behind, obviously, the whole day. And I was 1-over par for the championship, 1-under for the day when I was on 13. And I hit a really good 5-iron in there, and it was a putt that was going to make the rest of the round go one way or another. Because I just thought if I made it, it would give me some momentum, get me to even par for the championship, a score I thought had a good chance of being enough. And that putt went in and it just gave me a nice momentum boost, because it's very hard to make birdies out here. You're not going to hit it to tap-in distance. You're going to have to make some good putts. And that was as close as I thought I would have a chance at birdie coming in.
And I ended up making it. It was a critical putt. I came right back on 14, where I had a good opportunity to make another one and I did. I made some good pars on 15 and 16, and when I was walking up 17, that was the moment that I had to kind of compose myself, because I hit two of the best 3-woods I've ever hit. That is exactly why I don't have a driver in the bag. Those two 3-woods were the two best shots of the week, to get it on that green. As I was walking up to the green, that was when I realized that this is very much my championship in my control. And I was getting a little emotional. I had to kind of take a second to slow down my walk and try to regain composure. Because not only do I still need a two-putt birdie, but I also needed to make a tough par on 18, and I fortunately made birdie on both.
Q. Did you know you had sole possession when you got to the 17th green?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yes, I saw 1-under was leading, and I had a chance to get a two-shot lead if I were to two-putt. I believe this is the first year we've had electric scoreboards here at the British Open, and I was able to see one right there on 17th green.
Q. Many congratulations. This time seven days ago I seem to recall asking you at Castle Stuart where your first win in the home of golf ranked against all the other titles in your career. So where does this now rank against the others? And can you just explain how much of a benefit playing at Castle Stuart and the Scottish Open has been for this week?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, winning Castle Stuart, at the time, you know, was a big win for me. But in seven days it has gone down considerably (laughter). It was a special week for me last week because I was playing so well. It gave me confidence heading into this week. It was exactly what I needed to propel me into this championship. And playing well in that final day in difficult conditions gave me the confidence that I could play some of my best golf on links conditions. And I did. I mean, today was as good as I could play. It was one of the best rounds I've ever played.
Q. You first visited these shores essentially in 1991 when you played in the Walker Cup at Portmarnock. But you were inspired an Alastair Mackenzie classic at Lahinch. You cited it as being one of your favorite courses. It's a great links course. Why has it taken 22 years for you to bring home a Claret Jug?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I did enjoy links golf when I first played at the Walker Cup in '91 at Portmarnock. It was a wonderful test. I played well. But the conditions and the penalty for missed shots in the Open Championship are much more severe than we played then. And it took me a while to figure it out, I would say. It's been the last eight or nine years I've started to playing it more effectively, I've started to hit the shots more effectively. But even then it's so different than what I grew up playing. I always wondered if I would develop the skills needed to win this championship. I saw you there on 9, and it was a cool feeling where I made birdie there to get to even for the tournament, and I knew going into the back nine I was in contention with a good shot. And to finally capture this, it feels really, really good.
Q. Can you kind of explain how important that session with Butch was yesterday morning that we talked about yesterday? And No. 2, Bones said to us after the round that you actually had to slow him down on No. 1. Can you talk about that?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, yesterday I had a good practice session with Butch because Friday I did not strike it very well. And we set up a little mini station that gave me a little bit more width and forced me to keep the club a little bit more out instead of dropping underneath, which is a problem I tend to have. I started to hit the ball pretty solidly yesterday. I had to hit some fades throughout the day because I didn't quite feel comfortable hitting draws from that wide a position. But today it all clicked. Today was where I put the rhythm and the mechanics together and hit some great shots. And walking down 1, all week Bones has said to me and last week at Castle Stuart, "Slow down. Let's enjoy this." And he started walking a little fast, so I was able to reverse it on him.
Q. Related to that, what does winning this major mean to Bones?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, he was getting choked up in the locker room. This is really special for both of us. It's a special moment to be part of the great history of this championship. It's a great accomplishment for us as a team and for me in my career to win this championship that has been the biggest challenge. This has been the biggest challenge for me to overcome and capture this championship, this trophy.
Q. Can you just sort of talk about coming from the deflation that you felt last month at Merion to the elation that you feel today and that transition in getting there.
PHIL MICKELSON: It's a huge difference in emotions, as you can imagine. And being so down after the U.S. Open, to come back and use it as motivation, to use it as a springboard, knowing that I'm playing well and to push me a little bit extra to work harder, to come out on top, in a matter of a month to turn it around it really feels amazing. I thought that it could go either way. You have to be resilient in this game because losing is such a big part of it. And after losing the U.S. Open, it could have easily gone south, where I was so deflated I had a hard time coming back. But I looked at it and thought I was playing really good golf. I had been playing some of the best in my career. And I didn't want it to stop me from potential victories this year, and some potential great play. And I'm glad I didn't, because I worked a little bit harder. And in a matter of a month I'm able to change entirely the way I feel.
Q. Many congratulations. First of all, can you tell us a little bit about the name Mickelson. And whether there was any Scottish Heritage to that?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. I don't know (with a Scottish accent) (laughter). Maybe a wee bit (laughter).
Q. Will you be finding out?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know.
Q. Second question is, the last two editions of the Open have been inherited by someone else's misfortune. Is it extra special to have taken that tournament by the scruff of the neck and positively have won it?
PHIL MICKELSON: Honestly, I don't care either way how I got this trophy. I got it. And it just so happened to be with one of the best rounds of my career, which is really the way I've played my entire career. I've always tried to go out and get it, like you're saying. I don't want anybody to hand it to me, I want to go out and get it. And today I did.
Q. Congratulations again. The list of winners of here at Muirfield, I think most of them are all Hall of Famers. It must be extra special to do it here. And secondly, did you set a target this morning? Did you think, I'm going to have to shoot this sort of number, or did you just go out and try and play?
PHIL MICKELSON: I saw that there were some scores under par early on, and I thought maybe it was playing a little bit easier than it had. But there again, the conditions tend to get more difficult later in the day as things dry out. My only goal was to get it to even par in the championship at the turn. When I got to No. 9 at 1-over, knowing that's really our birdie hole there. And I made birdie and I was able to do that, get it to even par, that was my goal. Because now it's a 9-hole competition and I'm right in the thick of it. I thought right around even or maybe 1-under would be enough to win the championship. And I felt I was playing well enough to shoot that on the back nine, and ultimately did. It feels great.
Q. And to be in that roll of honor?
PHIL MICKELSON: Any list, no matter where it's played, to be able to capture this Claret Jug feels terrific. The past champions here at Muirfield are exceptional, and to be part of that it feels great.
Q. You spoke earlier about Castle Stuart, the last three Open winners have played the Scottish Open the week before. Do you think that suggests more of the top world players should play next year?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that getting your best golf out, and try to peak for certain events is a very personal thing. Some people like to play the week before, some people don't. For me I do. And for me personally Castle Stuart was a great place for me to get ready. It gave me some great links golf experience. I got to hit all the shots that we were playing today. In fact Castle Stuart was very firm and fast, just like it was here at Muirfield. That doesn't mean that it was right for everybody, but it certainly was good it for me.
Q. You'll be around to continue your winning round in Scotland in Aberdeen next summer?
PHIL MICKELSON: Oh, yeah, sure. Absolutely.
Q. You realize you haven't let go of that trophy since you sat up there?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, it feels pretty cool to have this in grasp.
Q. How about the way you won, just hanging around, hanging around, shooting a 32 in the back. Is that more satisfying and fun? And how do you describe that and the wow factor?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, the wow factor just kind of happened. It wasn't like I was setting out thinking, I need to make birdies or I was trying to force birdies. I was just trying to hit good shots. And I made a bunch of putts today. I really putted great. It's as good as I ever putted in my career. I've been fortunately putting like this for quite some time now. Links greens have actually been, I think, the reason why I have not been in contention very often here. More so than some of the ball-striking. And I putted these greens phenomenal. Some of the best I've ever putted. And today those birdies just kind of happened. They weren't forced. I just hit good shots. The ball ended up in a spot I could make a putt and I did. I made a lot of putts.
Q. More satisfying the way you won it?
PHIL MICKELSON: It really doesn't matter how. Just to capture this championship and to be part of the history of this event, and to win The Open Championship, the event I thought would be the hardest, and has been the hardest in my career to capture, to come out on top and to play my best golf, it doesn't matter how. But certainly to birdie four of the last six is awesome.
Q. Some of the guys mentioned the greens were slower today. You said earlier in the week you've been watching in the mornings. I'm wondering did you do some scouting again this morning? And also you mentioned you had a secret you'd determined with your putting. Can you reveal that now?
PHIL MICKELSON: You know, when I said - I said it was a secret of my putting. There's a million different ways to putt, but for me I've kind of really keyed in on some stuff. It feels great to putt like this. Then I didn't really look at the players this morning. I didn't watch TV. I wanted to kind of create my own way of how I was going to play the course, and I didn't want to be influenced with what was happening by other people's shots. But I did see the scores, and I did see that there were a number of people under par, 2, 3. 4-under Dufner shot. So I felt like there were some birdies out there.
Q. This might be a hard one for you to answer, but you've got three out of the four now and your six second places away from a career Grand Slam. Do you think this enriches your legacy, say, as one of the greatest players in the game?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that if I'm able to win the U.S. Open and complete the career Grand Slam, I think that that's the sign of the complete great player. And I'm a leg away. And it's been a tough leg for me (laughter). But I think that's the sign. I think there's five players that have done that. And those five players are the greats of the game. You look at them with a different light. And if I were able to ever win a U.S. Open, and I'm very hopeful that I will, but it has been elusive for me. And yet this championship has been much harder for me to get.
Q. Congratulations. The course has had its critics this week, mainly for the state of the greens, and how quick they were. How big a part did conditions play today? A little bit cooler today, a little bit more moisture in the air, did that help?
PHIL MICKELSON: I'm not sure. I thought these last two days it was set up perfectly. And it's very difficult to find that fine line between hard but fair and going over the edge. And I thought that these last two days were perfect because it gave a player like myself, that hit shots exactly how I was wanting to, to make birdies and to pull away. And I also saw a lot of guys where they hit less-than-perfect shots and made bogeys and doubles and fall back. I think that's what you're looking for. I thought the last two days were great.
Q. When is Bones the most valuable to you, on days like Friday or days like today? And just how do you explain that your long and productive relationship with him?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, we've had a partnership over the last 20-plus years of my career, from the time I turned pro. It's very difficult here to pull clubs because you have three different options on every shot based on the trajectory and whether you're working it into the wind or with the wind. And to pull shots or to pull clubs when you have to not only pull the right club, but you have to describe the right shot and to be descriptive and for us to be on the same page, it's really difficult to do. And we were on the same page all week. There were a few that we were off, like everybody, but there were only a few. We did a good job together. Bones was exceptional. We sure are enjoying this. This is a great moment for us.
Q. Congratulations, Phil. When I was walking through there a few minutes ago I think I heard Amy say on TV that you said this morning that you were going to bring the Claret Jug home. Is that the case? And if so, is there any reason why you said that?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, I didn't make any predictions. I just felt like I was playing really well. I mean, playing some of the best I've ever played. And to just try to put it all together and just play a good round that we were going to try to get something we didn't have, which was a Claret Jug. But there were no predictions, because you just don't know what's going to happen out here. You don't know what the winning score is going to be. You don't know what the other players are going to do. This is just a day and a moment that I will cherish forever. This is a really special time, and as fulfilling a career accomplishment as I could ever imagine.
MODERATOR: Thank you again. Congratulations, the 2013 Open champion.
PHIL MICKELSON: Thank you.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.