Date: July 22, 2013
Author: Peter Stone /

Stone: Magic Mickelson masters Muirfield

A stroll through Kensington Palace Gardens and coming across the centenary exhibition of Aston Martin cars – assembled to the theme of the James Bond movies with a collection of the cars used in their making – and a brass band playing the movie songs, yesterday seemed ideal relaxation before an afternoon of watching golf on TV. So much beckoned: could Adam Scott become only the ninth player in history to win both the US Masters and British Open in the same year? Might Englishman Lee Westwood, now aged 40, win that first major he so richly deserves or would Tiger Woods finally move his major record stalled on 14 for more than five years. Never take anything for granted in The Open Championship, the oldest of them all; once again it was none of those predicted storylines that emerged. And, it is possible to come from the proverbial mile from behind to grasp the fabled Claret Jug. Scot Paul Lawrie was 10 back at Carnoustie in 1999 before winning in a play-off; just last year at Royal Lytham and St Anne s, South African Ernie Els came from six behind to grab the faltering Scott by a shot. So, it was at Muirfield yesterday that the ever-popular Phil Mickelson came from five behind in daring and spectacular fashion – that James Bond would have been proud of. The 43-year-old bogeyed the 10th and seemed out of it. Playing a few groups behind, Scott made his fourth birdie in five holes on the 11th to take a one-shot lead over Mickelson and Swede Henrik Stenson. Could, playing Scott, playing in company with Woods, with the world No 1 s former caddie Steve Williams on Scott s bag win after last year s loss to Els? He didn t need redemption; that came at Augusta where the normally reserved Queenslander let his raw emotions tumble out. Sadly, he couldn’t but he holed a consolation birdie putt from around 15 metres at the final hole to boost himself into a tie for third at one-over par with Stenson finishing second on level par, with Mickelson three shots clear on three under after an astonishing four birdies in the last eight holes, some of the toughest Muirfield has to offer. Woods had a final round of 75, and again questions must be asked about his ability to finish off a major for, so often now in the years of drought, he had failed to deliver. My view is that his drive to surpass Jack Nicklaus s record 18 majors has become his fatal flaw. Mind you, for the better part of the week Woods seemed to be at peace with himself. No visible club abuse, no foul language that the boom mikes of the TV cameras picked up, just a highly talented, yet ageing, player trying to find a spark of the major magic of old. Maybe he is finally reaching maturity after being starved of a childhood by his late father Earl who groomed his son to become the greatest golfer of them all, a matter that is still under consideration by the worldwide jury. Or, is it because of his latest official romance with US skiing champion Lindsay Vonn. She may well be providing a calming influence as, after all, she is a champion sportsperson in her own right. No longer is he asked about the most famous collision with a fire hydrant ever by a mostly timid golf media and a far more enquiring media at large. But, enough of Woods. Mickelson has lived in the giant shadow of the Woods for the majority of his career and yesterday at Muirfield he finally conquered links golf. In his previous 18 appearances on this side of the Atlantic, his best finishes were tied second in 2011 and third in 2004. They were his only two top 10 efforts amidst a host of also-ran finishes and a couple of missed cuts. His game, so creative with a wedge in hand, is played in the air like most American golf whereas in Britain it is a game played along the ground, where in dry conditions you can pitch the ball 80-100 metres short of the green and let it run hoping the angle is correct to negotiate the humps and bumps. Peter Thomson, five-time Open Champion, was a master; so too the other modern-day five-time champ Tom Watson. Mickelson finished birdie, birdie. His two three-wood blows into the wind to the par five 17th were the stuff of legend and then he finished proceedings with a final six metre birdie putt to all but snuff out the hopes of those still to finish. Nines of 34-32 for a five-under 66 gave him the low round of the tournament. He and his faithful caddie Jim Bones Mackay embraced and shed some tears. Mickelson has never had another caddie in his professional career that started in 1992; that is a phenomenon in pro golf. I reckon Robert Allenby now totals more than 30 caddies. With Bones and Lefty, it has been a lasting marriage, so to with his wife Amy, who has survived breast cancer, who greeted him with their two daughters Amanda and Sophia and son Evan as he walked to the scorer s hut. His coach Butch Harmon, who s had a couple of other Open Champions in the form of Greg Norman and Woods, was there too. Harmon reckoned this one was the best of all three, simply because Mickelson had crafted his game for links golf. Mickelson won last week s Scottish Open, traditionally played in the week prior to The Open, and he also became the first player to win the double in the same year. So, it became Mickelson s fifth major, following victories in the 2004, 2006 and 2010 Masters plus the 2005 PGA Championship. Now, the US Open becomes his Holy Grail. Six-times he has been runner-up, the most recent of which was just last month, and a couple of his losses have been almost sadistic in their execution. The legendary Sam Snead, winner of 82 PGA Tour titles (Mickelson now 42) and eight majors, died never winning the US Open and Mickelson s legion of fans would hope he doesn’t suffer a similar fate. As he waited for the championship to come to an end, he signed countless autographs as he always does. Never does he brush anyone aside, even in pouring rain as I saw at Bethpage Black during the US Open in 2009, for one day one of those kids may become the champion he is. This is such an accomplishment for me because I just never knew I could be able to develop the game and shots required to play links golf effectively, Mickelson said. We had such firm fast conditions here at Muirfield, the epitome of links golf and to play the best round arguably in my career today, to putt better than I ve ever putted and to shoot the round of my life here, it just feels amazing to win this Claret Jug. The range of emotions I feel as far apart as possible over the last month after such a difficult loss at the US Open (to Englishman Justin Rose) and to win a tournament here that I was just not sure I was ever going to win. To win just feels amazing. You have to be resilient in this game, you have to accept losses and you have to use it as motivation as opposed to letting it defeat you to work harder and come back strong. These past couple of weeks, these past couple of months, I ve played some of the best golf I ve ever played. It’s very fulfilling, Mickelson said. Scott can hold his head high. His critics, and surely he would have few after the manner in which he won Australia s first green jacket in April, would point to his four straight bogeys from the 13th to the 16th yesterday and liken it to his four straight bogey finish at Lytham last year to lose to Els. That would be a nonsense. Scott has always had the swing and the game that is the envy of his peers but for so long it was as though he was just too nice a guy to win. The English call it bottle but we Australians would prefer to say mongrel, and that is just what Williams as the caddie has given Scott. Yet, he remains a nice guy, and the betting is he won t remain a one-major wonder. He’s far too good for that.