GULLANE, Scotland - This was the one, the British Open, with a links-style setup, a type of course that had so long perplexed him, the one major tournament that Phil Mickelson doubted would ever be his.
"I never knew if I'd be able to develop the game or shots needed," Mickelson said.
But on the historic venue of Muirfield, where such greats as Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson had triumphed, Mickelson, at age 43, proved he had the game, the shots and the guts in coming from behind Sunday to win the 142nd British Open.
Starting the day at 2 over par and five shots out of the lead, Mickelson produced what he called, "probably the best round of my career," a 5-under 66 that gave him a stunning win in the oldest tournament in golf.
His 72-hole score of 3-under 281 was the only subpar total in the field and three shots clear of Sweden's Henrik Stenson, who closed with a 1-under 70 and par 284 for the tournament.
Three players tied for third at 285, four back: Ian Poulter, who played early and leapfrogged most of the field with a 67; Adam Scott, who just as last year while leading this tournament, made four straight bogeys down the stretch; and Lee Westwood, the third-round leader and one of the best players never to win a major.
Tiger Woods, with a 3-over 74, Zach Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama shared sixth at 286.
"This is such an accomplishment for me," Mickelson said.
Especially since his style of golf is hitting high shots that bite on watered greens, not the low runners that bounce to the pin, a type of shot required in wind and on hard fairways, a type of shot exclusive to the British Open among majors. Especially since Mickelson blew the lead at the U.S. Open at Merion in June, with two early double bogeys leading to a 4-over 74 and a second-place finish for a painful sixth time.
Said Mickelson: "Being so down after the U.S. Open, to come back and use it as motivation, to come out on top and turn it around in a matter of a month feels amazing."
As well, it was an emotional win for those involved with Mickelson:
His wife, Amy, and three children were in the gallery as he hit two brilliant 3-wood shots to the par-5 17th that resulted in a birdie and gave him the lead at 2 under.
Mickelson's caddie for nearly all the 20-plus years he's been a pro, English-born Jim "Bones" Mackay, began to weep during the award ceremony. That's when Royal and Ancient Golf Club chief executive Peter Dawson calls out "the champion golfer of the year."
Some thought that champion would be Westwood, who was two ahead after six holes. Some thought it would be Scott, who had the lead after 12 holes. It was Mickelson, though, who birdied four of his last six holes to win and now lacks only that elusive U.S. Open to become but the sixth man in history to win all four majors.
"If I'm able to win the U.S. Open, and complete the career grand slam . . ." Mickelson said. "I think that's the sign of a complete, great player. Those five players [Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Player, Nicklaus, Woods] are the greats of the game. You look at them with a different light."
The Brits look at Mickelson, nicknamed Lefty, with admiration. A week ago, he won the Scottish Open on Castle Stuart in the highlands at Inverness. Now the Open.
"I hit some of the best shots I ever hit," Mickelson said. "I certainly putted better than I ever putted. I just needed to show up and play some of my best golf. And I did. It's a day I'll always cherish and remember."
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