Phil Mickelson turns on the power to finally win The Open
Lee Westwood has no answer to Phil's stunning 66
Let us not reproach Lee Westwood for failing to convert on the final day of a major, but raise a glass to the marvellous Phil Mickelson, who did as the book of fable demands and ripped through the field to claim the greatest prize in golf. Mickelson plays golf on the edge of recklessness. He went for the big shots when the ordeal was at its height and pulled it off. Four birdies over the closing six holes for a 66 deserve everything they get on the Sunday of an Open Championship. The Claret Jug goes to a worthy home.
Westwood offered neither complaint nor excuse. He did not play well enough, hit some poor shots at critical moments and was powerless to arrest the slide when momentum began to slip away. Were it not for the putter it might have been worse. Westwood holed more than his share, including two great bogey saves on seven and eight, and a lag putt on nine after being plugged in sand for the third successive hole.
As he left the scene with his arm around his son, you wanted to believe him when he said this latest reverse would not cost him a wink of sleep. Really?
This had to hurt, especially as the presentation ceremony was playing out on a monitor beside him as he talked us through his experience. "I wanted to end on the 18th green like that," he said pointing at the celebrations. "Third in a major is a pretty good week. I don't really get disappointed with golf anymore. I would not have done anything differently.
"I got myself into the last group on the Sunday at the Open, which was a new experience for me and where any professional golfer wants to be. I really enjoyed it. Some days it just doesn't happen."
It is not the first time Mickelson has denied Westwood a place among the elite. And just as he did at the Masters three years ago, Mickelson soared on the back of outrageous elan. Hitched to this have-a-go credo Mickelson turned a five-shot deficit into a three-shot victory. "I don't care how I got this trophy. It just so happened to be one of the best rounds of my career. Throughout my career I've always tried to go out and get it. I don't want anybody to hand it to me. I want to go and get it and I did."
It doesn't always happen like this. A month ago he walked in the footsteps of Westwood, leading the US Open, a tournament he has never won, by one shot. It proved an advantage he could not defend against the precision assault of Justin Rose.
"You have to be resilient in this game because losing is such a big part of it. After losing the US Open and being so down this is a huge difference in emotion as you can imagine. I could easily have gone south, where I was so deflated that I would have a hard time coming back. But I used it as a springboard."
Here it was Westwood who fell back under the weight of chasing the impossible dream. He led by two at the start of play and three after six holes. By the turn the lead had gone and thus began his slide.
The weather that had glowed hot all week fell away in sympathy, cloaking Muirfield in a dense, grey chill. And Westwood was not the only one who felt it. The challenge of Tiger Woods, playing with Adam Scott, faded from the first hole, which he bogeyed to fall back to even par. There would be three more bogeys in a flat 74.
Having bagged four birdies in five holes around the turn to lead by one with seven to play, Scott thought that this might be his day. Incredibly, just as he did a year ago at Lytham, Scott rattled off four bogeys in a row.
There would be a birdie at the last but by then it was too late. Mickelson utterly inverted convention. The back nine on Sunday are supposed to be golf's greatest ordeal.
Four birdies bagged over Muirfield's closing six holes ranks alongside smuggling the crown jewels out of the Tower.
The Open is Mickelson's fifth major victory and comes a week after he plundered the Highlands to take the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.
"Just to capture this championship, the hardest of my career to win, and to be part of the history of this event, is awesome," he said.
Winning back to back is not easy he explained before a ball was kicked, but then again he added, you are looking at the last guy to do it. In fact he was wrong about that. Woods has sat on that honour since 2007, claiming the US PGA title a week after winning the Bridgestone. Mickelson did the double in 2006 when he followed the Bell South Classic with his second Masters.
This, he stated, is as good as it gets because he had to play as well as he is able to win it. The two 3-woods he hit to reach the green on 17 were the best he has hit in his life, he said. He knew then the tournament was his and a championship he has struggled to master since first playing links golf at the Walker Cup in 1991 had finally come to him at the age of 43.
Phil Mickelson Factfile
1970: Born June 16 in San Diego
1990: Wins US Amateur, first left-hander to do so.
1991: Wins first PGA Tour title, while still an amateur, at Northern Telecom Open.
1992: Turns professional.
1993: Wins for first time as a professional at Buick Invitational.
1995: Makes first of nine Ryder Cup appearances but is on the losing side at Oak Hill.
1996: Wins four PGA Tour tournaments.
2004: Wins first major title at US Masters, carding a closing 69 at Augusta to beat Ernie Els by a shot.
2005: Wins second major in US PGA Championship at Baltusrol.
2006: Wins Masters for second time by two shots from Tim Clark.
2008: Member of winning Ryder Cup team at Valhalla, despite only winning two points from five matches.
2010: Wins third Masters title in emotional circumstances, embracing his wife Amy, who was battling breast cancer, on final green.
2012: Wins three points from four in his record ninth Ryder Cup appearance at Medinah but crucially loses to Justin Rose on final day as Europe secure a dramatic win from 10-6 down.
2013: June 16 - Finishes second to Rose in US Open at Merion, a record sixth runners-up finish in the event on his 43rd birthday.
July 21 - Wins Open Championship at Muirfield with final round of 66.
How the day unfolded
1355 - Henrik Stenson birdies the opening hole to move within three of the lead.
1413 - Tiger Woods three-putts the first to drop three behind Lee Westwood.
1415 - Stenson birdies the third to close the gap to two.
1442 - A run of eagle, birdie, birdie, birdie from the 10th gets Ian Poulter back to level par.
1445 - Westwood bogeys the third after tangling with heavy rough. His lead is down to one over Stenson.
1515 - Westwood birdies the fifth despite hitting his tee shot into a fairway bunker. With Stenson dropping a shot his lead is back to three.
1540 - Needing two shots to escape from a bunker, Westwood bogeys the seventh.
1550 - Adam Scott makes it three birdies in a row on the ninth.
1553 - More trouble in the sand sees Westwood drop a shot on the eighth and fall back into a three-way tie with Scott and Stenson, who had birdied the ninth.
1605 - Poulter completes a round of 67 to set the clubhouse target on one over par.
1608 - Scott birdies the 11th to take the outright lead on two under.
1622 - Phil Mickelson birdies the 13th and 14th to close within one of Scott.
1653 - Scott and Westwood bogey the 13th a few minutes apart and when Scott also bogeys the 14th, Mickelson - playing the 17th - leads on his own at one under.
1658 - Mickelson birdies the par-five 17th to move two under and two clear.
1713 - Another birdie on the 18th completes a stunning 66 – equalling the lowest round of the week – and effectively seals victory even though the final four groups are still on the course.