If history was any guide then one of the best players of the generation was going to win over the parched, hard bouncing Muirfield links, a course many think is the finest championship course in the world. That had always been the way of Muirfield and the champion Phil Mickelson played a round of 66 that he was to describe as the best of his long career. For years Mickelson had endured the links game with little success and even he admitted to wondering if he would ever have the full array of shots needed to win an Open Championship. It seems silly that a player of such talent would consider his game somehow deficient but such was his record that it had probably reached the point where many considered his time past. But, at 59 in 2009 Tom Watson had almost won and the last two winners Darren Clarke and Ernie Els were, like Mickelson, into their forties. The reason for such past-the-prime success at The Open is the nature of the examination. The regular Tour golf courses especially in America, but increasingly on the European Tour reward great power, the constant reproduction of one reliable shot and great putting. Most often the conditions are both soft and, if Scotland is the measure, relatively windless. Mickelson understood power was not going to be a prerequisite to success in Scotland and didn t waste one of the fourteen allowed clubs on a driver. Instead he drove with a strong fairway wood and employed five pitching clubs and time after time the wisdom of that decision paid off as he hit miraculous short shots around the greens. The winning shot most probably came for Mickelson at the short sixteenth. He seemed to have played the most perfect of irons and it was inches from safety and a fifteen foot putt for a two when the ball turned, slid back and then ran with increasing speed a full ten paces off the front of the green. It was a wicked piece of bad fortune but he flipped a wedge up to six feet and, made the putt. Buoyed by that saving and critical par he ripped two long woods onto the par five, two putted for the four and then to finish he drove perfectly, precisely played a mid-iron to ten feet and holed for 66. The rest behind including Adam Scott and Saturday leader Lee Westwood were left with no hope of catching up and matching Mickelson s total so difficult were the closing few holes. Scott had the lead on the 13th tee but he hit a poor iron to the right on one of the games greatest short holes and he followed that bogey by taking three putts from the edges of the following two greens. The bogey at the 15th from little more than twenty feet was particularly miserable and he would have been excused for thinking the ban on anchoring the long putter cannot come quickly enough. Scott had not putted particularly well that last and historic day at Augusta but the abiding memory of that triumph is the holing of two incredible putts right at the end. Those putts cemented the long implement s place in Scott s bag for the meantime but it isn t a magic wand and after this Open he is perhaps best resorting to the conventional. Tiger Woods again played a somewhat ragged final round, driving crookedly and missing critical putts and scoring 74. Winning the biggest championships seemed once so easy as he played the brilliant shots and the other fell away but now it is quite different and one wonders why. His swing looks terrific especially with the irons and he plays his way into final round contention with more regularity than any of his contemporaries but when it s there to win it is now someone else hits the shots and making the putts. This was Mickelson s day though and it was his finest day. He matches Byron Nelson, Peter Thomson and Severiano Ballesteros as a winner of five major championships. More impressively he is U.S Open away from winning all four of the major championships. Only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods have done that and staggeringly Mickelson has, six, times, been second in his national championship. There will be no rough at Pinehurst next June and the greens are amongst the most difficult in the game. He has marked himself as the favourite at Pinehurst with this awesome play at Muirfield that proved a fortieth birthday is no barrier to the highest levels of golfing achievement.
Author: Mike Clayton / Golf.org.au