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Grand Slam edges closer for Phil Mickelson after 'biggest challenge' victory


Phil Mickelson of the United States holes a birdie putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield on July 21, 2013 in Gullane, Scotland.

Phil Mickelson of the United States holes a birdie putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield on July 21, 2013 in Gullane, Scotland.

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Phil Mickelson of the United States holes a birdie putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield on July 21, 2013 in Gullane, Scotland.

Phil Mickelson's brilliant Open victory has taken the American back to second in the world golf rankings for the first time since September 2010, leapfrogging our own struggling Rory McIlroy who has dropped back to third from his start of year No1 position.

Mickelson carded a final round of 66 at Muirfield to win the Claret Jug for the first time in 20 attempts and a fifth major title of his career.

Five weeks after suffering the heartache of a record sixth runners-up finish in the US Open, the 43-year-old finished three under par and the only man in red figures at Muirfield, three shots clear of Sweden's Henrik Stenson with overnight leader Lee Westwood a shot further back alongside compatriot Ian Poulter and Masters champion Adam Scott.

"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," said Mickelson (right) who had claimed his first individual victory in Britain seven days earlier in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.

"I'm playing some of the best golf of my career. It's the best I've ever putted. Today will be one of the most memorable rounds of golf I've ever played.

"It's probably the greatest and most difficult win of my career. It is great to be part of any Open Championship and to win at Muirfield feels amazing.

"I did enjoy links golf when I first played at the Walker Cup in 1991 at Portmarnock," added champion Mickelson.

"It was a wonderful test 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 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. This has been the biggest challenge for me to overcome and capture this championship, this trophy."

Mickelson is now three quarters of the way to the career Grand Slam after previous wins in the US Masters and US PGA, and could easily have completed it here given the events of last month.

He had celebrated his 43rd birthday by taking a one-shot lead into the final round of the US Open at Merion, only to card a closing 74 and lose out to Justin Rose.

"The range of emotions I feel are as far apart as possible in the last month after such a tough loss," he added. "You have to be resilient in this game and take losses and use them as motivation to work harder and come back stronger."

Mickelson began the day five shots behind Westwood and was still seemingly on the periphery when a front nine of 34 was followed by a bogey on the 10th.

But he birdied the 13th, 14th, 17th and 18th to complete victory in style and get back to number two in the world for the first time since September 2010.

"I was behind the whole day and I was one over for the championship when I was on 13," he added. "I hit a really good five iron in there (to 10ft) and it was a putt that was going to make the rest of the round go one way or another.

"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 and that was as close as I thought I would have a chance at birdie coming in.

"I had a good opportunity to make another one on 14 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 realised 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."

Adam Scott remains fourth despite a share of third place with Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, who move to 10th and 14th respectively.

Latest world positions and points average: 1 Tiger Woods (USA) 12.64, 2 Phil Mickelson (USA) 8.63, 3 Rory McIlroy (NIrl) 8.61, 4 Adam Scott (Aus) 7.71, 5 Justin Rose (Eng) 7.70, 6 Matt Kuchar (USA) 6.53, 7 Brandt Snedeker (USA), 6.08, 8 Graeme McDowell (NIrl) 6.06, 9 Luke Donald (Eng) 5.55, 10 Lee Westwood (Eng) 5.21, 11 Steve Stricker (USA) 4.87, 12 Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 4.83, 13 Charl Schwartzel (Rsa) 4.74, 14 Ian Poulter (Eng) 4.74, 15 Ernie Els (Rsa) 4.70, 16 Sergio Garcia (Spa) 4.70, 17 Keegan Bradley (USA) 4.50, 18 Bubba Watson (USA) 4.44, 19 Jason Day (Aus) 4.44, 20 Henrik Stenson (Swe) 4.43.

Belfast Telegraph