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Phil Mickelson plays round of his life

7/22/2013 - Golf

GULLANE, Scotland -- Breakfast with the Mickelsons isn't like ours.

What we say during Sunday breakfast: "Pass the flapjacks, will ya?"

What Phil Mickelson says during Sunday breakfast: "I'm gonna go out and get a Claret Jug today."

What his wife Amy is thinking as her husband says he's going to win the Open Championship: He's five back and it's soooooo hard.

Guess what? Lefty got it right. He came from five shots back, from the deep shadows of this Open Championship, really, to leave Muirfield with a major so unexpected that his goose bumps need bed rest.

"I just can't believe that I finally won this," he said, as he sat inside a small trailer just off the 18th green, waiting for the final groups to make their way in. "I'm playing the best I've ever played."

He looked slightly dazed, like someone who just realized that all six numbers on his or her Lotto ticket matched the pingpong balls. He wore a smile not so much of disbelief, but of undistilled joy.

At age 43, and only a month removed from one of the most devastating defeats of his long career, Mickelson won his first Open Championship (in his 20th try) and his fifth major.

He didn't back into it; he ran every red light and shot the low round of the day (a 5-under-par 66) as he zipped past 54-hole leader Lee Westwood and everyone else -- Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Hunter Mahan, Zach Johnson, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Ryan Moore, Angel Cabrera -- in the fast lane.

"Probably the best round of my career," he said to the Muirfield crowd during the awards ceremony on the 18th green. "Probably the most fulfilling moment of my career."

Probably? His caddie of 20-plus years, Jim "Bones" Mackay, wept after the victory. His agent and former college coach, Steve Loy, almost hurt himself smiling. Amy Mickelson spent most of the post-round festivities wiping tears from her eyes.

"I'm so proud of him ... I'm so proud of him ... I'm so proud of him," she said when a friend offered her a hug.

A security guard tried to shoo Amy away from the scorer's trailer. "Can we keep this area clear, please?"

Then he recognized the shoo-ee and stepped away.

Nobody saw this win coming, except Phil at breakfast. He was five strokes out of the lead and considered an afterthought. Sunday was going to be the day the Englishman Westwood finally won a major, or Scott won his second, or Woods won his 15th. Phil who?

And then he birdied the fifth hole to go from 2-over to 1-over. Then he birdied the ninth to reach his 63-hole target score of even-par. Then he bogeyed No. 10, but got the shot back on No. 13. Then he birdied No. 14.

On the par-3 16th, his tee shot landed on the green and then rolled down, down, down to a swale. Trouble.

Instead, Mickelson walked up to the ball, considered his options and matter-of-factly told Mackay, "Oh, I can get this up and down."

"Cool," Bones said.

And he did, saving par on the 16th and then making birdie on the par-5 17th with two consecutive 3-wood shots that ought to be on the cover of "Laser Illustrated." Then, just to grind his shoe heel into the rest of the field, he birdied No. 18 to finish at 3-under for the tournament and three strokes ahead of runner-up Stenson.

"I did it," he said into Mackay's ear as they hugged on the green. "I did it."

Even as the last few groups made their way in, official engraver Garry Harvey had already peeled off the bottom ring of silver on the Claret Jug and begun carving Mickelson's name. Harvey knew what we all knew: nobody was going to catch Mickelson.

A few minutes earlier, Amy and the three Mickelson children had stood with Harvey in his cramped work area just down from the scorer's trailer. They had stared at the Jug in wonderment.

"She was absolutely over the moon," Harvey said.

Can you blame her? She wanted to believe her husband's breakfast vow, but, c'mon, five shots? And she wasn't alone.

"I didn't know that was out there," said Zach Johnson of Mickelson's final-round 66.

"I didn't see that coming," said the caddie of a player who got passed by Mickelson. The caddie said it with admiration and respect.

So absolutely impressive was the performance, that Poulter, who shot 67 to move all the way to a T-3 finish, snuck into the TV interview room where Mickelson was chatting with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi. Poulter stuck out his hand and simply said, "Brilliant stuff."

It was brilliant. And historic. And healing.

Last month at Merion, Mickelson led the U.S. Open with eight holes to play. And then he started leaking just enough oil to allow Justin Rose to leave Philly with the championship. It was Mickelson's sixth -- sixth! -- second-place finish in a U.S. Open.

Mickelson was crushed gravel after the defeat. The 2006 "I-am-such-an-idiot'' loss at Winged Foot will forever leave a bruise mark, but Merion was a close second. Maybe that's why the local betting shops here made Lefty no better than a 20-1 shot at week's beginning.

"You have to be resilient in this game because losing is such a big part of it," Mickelson said.

Lately, winning is all Mickelson knows. He won here Sunday. He won at the Scottish Open the Sunday before that.

"Can you tell us a little bit about the name Mickelson," asked a reporter with a Scottish accent as thick as Muirfield's heather. "Any Scottish heritage to that?"

"I don't know," said Mickelson, who never, not once, took his right hand off the Jug during his post-round media conference. He paused and then, in a passable imitation of a Scot, said, "I dun't knuuuu. Maybe a weeeee bit."

The guy who could never get a break on this side of the pond now has a Claret Jug. He can drink his morning orange juice out of it if he wants.

At week's beginning, Mickelson said he had a "hate-love relationship'' with the Open Championship. Reminded of the comment, Loy gripped the yellow flag from the 18th green and said, "Thank goodness, he finally fell in love."