Lefty captures Claret Jug, 5th major

Updated: July 21, 2013, 6:35 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

GULLANE, Scotland -- For more than 21 years, the entire length of Phil Mickelson's professional career, Jim "Bones" Mackay has traveled the world, lugging a golf bag and dispensing wisdom through a journey that saw his boss achieve greatness.

But never had he cried after a victory.

The tears flowed Sunday evening in the Scottish mist, a most improbable win for Mickelson completed in stunning, awe-inspiring fashion at treacherous Muirfield, where the wind whipped off the Firth of Forth.

A final-round 66 closed out a decisive victory at the 142nd Open Championship, with Mickelson coming from five strokes back to win his fifth major championship and capture the game's oldest trophy, the Claret Jug.

"You're with a guy for all that time and it's pretty cool when you see him play the best round of his career in the last round of the British Open to win," Mackay said. "He played the best round of golf I've ever seen him play."

There have been a lot of great rounds for Mickelson in a Hall of Fame career, but it's hard to argue with this one. He needed just 26 putts in matching the best round of the tournament, and was the only player in the last 11 groups to break 70 -- doing so by four strokes.

He birdied four of the last six holes and closed with a back-nine 32 to claim the third leg of a career Grand Slam. Mickelson has won the Masters three times and the PGA Championship once.

Third-round leader Lee Westwood shot a 75 to drop into a tie for third. Hunter Mahan, who was 2 strokes back to begin the day, shot a 75 and tied for ninth. Tiger Woods was also within two shots when the final round began, but shot a 74 to see his winless streak in majors stretch to 17 with a tie for sixth.

Adam Scott, who led into the back nine, made four straight bogeys on the back to shoot a 72 and tie for third along with Ian Poulter, who began the day eight strokes back and posted a 67.

Mickelson ended up beating Sweden's Henrik Stenson, who shot a 70, by four strokes.

When Mickelson holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th, it was all but over with nearly an hour of golf left to play.

"I didn't know that was out there," marveled Zach Johnson -- who tied for sixth -- to Mackay afterward, everyone in shock and awe at the score Mickelson produced.

[+] EnlargePhil Mickelson
Ian Walton/R&A/Getty ImagesPhil Mickelson snatched his first Claret Jug and fifth major title with a dazzling final round at Muirfield.

"I don't care how I got it, this trophy. I got it," Mickelson said. "And it just so happened to be with one of the best rounds of my career, which is really the way I've played my entire career. I've always tried to go out and get it. I don't want anybody to hand it to me. I want to go out and get it. And today I did."

Mickelson continued the tradition of high-caliber champions at Muirfield. Going back to World War II, all of the winners here are in the Hall of Fame, starting with Henry Cotton and followed by Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo (twice) and Ernie Els. Mickelson is the first to win the championship at Muirfield while already in the Hall of Fame.

Although he was coming off a victory a week ago at the Scottish Open, Castle Stuart is not a links course in the same fashion as Muirfield, which turned brutal despite sunny skies and moderate wind for most of the week.

Mickelson has had a disappointing career at the Open Championship, with just two top-10s in 19 previous appearances. He contended two years ago at Royal St. George's, and in 2004 at Royal Troon, but generally he has been frustrated by this style of play.

But the Scottish Open victory gave him a boost, and Mickelson had a good feeling about Sunday, despite being five strokes behind Westwood to start the day.

"He was just so calm and confident," said Mickelson's wife, Amy, who brought the couple's three children along to the Scottish Open last week before a detour to Barcelona, and then to here for the Open. "He's been relaxed all week."

And yet, Mickelson was five strokes back on a course that was not giving much up. Westwood, 40, appeared in good shape to get his first major title, holding steady at 3 under through six holes. But he never made another birdie and bogeyed four of the last 12.

"I didn't really play well enough today," said Westwood, who now has eight top-3 finishes in major championships, the most of anyone without a victory. "I didn't play badly, but I didn't play great. It's a tough course and you have to have your A game. ... I said in the press center last night, sometimes you play well and somebody plays a bit better, and sometimes you play poorly. I really didn't do either today, and Phil obviously played well."

When Westwood faltered with a bogey at the eighth, Scott was able to take the lead with a birdie at the 11th to get to 2 under. The Australian was bidding to become the first player since Woods in 2005 to win the Masters and Open Championship in the same year.

But two holes later, Scott went on his own bogey binge, with four in a row. A year ago at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Scott bogeyed the last four to lose the title by one to Els.

"I let a great chance slip during the middle of the round, and that's disappointing," Scott said. "My game is in great shape and that's the good thing to take from it, but I didn't get to the number that Phil finished on. Had I played a little more solid in the middle of that back nine, I could have had a chance coming in."

Mickelson barely got a mention on the broadcast as he played the first nine, making a birdie at the par-5 fifth and then another at the par-5 ninth to get to even par for the tournament. He then bogeyed the par-4 10th, his momentum seemingly stalled, as he fell four strokes behind Westwood.

But his 5-iron to the par-3 13th changed everything.

"It was a putt that was going to make the rest of the round go one way or another," Mickelson said. "Because 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. It was a critical putt."

Mickelson made another birdie at the 14th to get to 1 under, and he was tied for the lead when Scott bogeyed the 13th. He made good pars at the 15th and 16th, then had his big opportunity at the par-5 17th.

Getting to 2 under would be crucial, as the other contenders were struggling to stay in the game.

"That's the moment I kind of had to compose myself, because I hit two of the best 3-woods I ever hit," Mickelson said. "That is exactly why I don't have driver in the bag. Those two 3-woods were the best shots of the week, and walking up on that green is when I realized that his championship is very much in my control. And I was getting a little emotional."

Mickelson two-putted for birdie to get to 2 under, then hit a 6-iron to the 18th, narrowly clearing a bunker but setting up a birdie putt that he knew clinched the tournament.

It was especially gratifying given his close call last month at the U.S. Open, where he finished second for a record sixth time.

"It was tough," said his coach, Butch Harmon. "But you go back to work and that's what he did. It paid off."

The victory was the 42nd of Mickelson's PGA Tour career and moved him back to No. 2 in the world for the first time since 2010. Mickelson never has been No. 1 in his career.

Afterward, Mickelson, as only Phil can do, was calmly talking to reporters beside the 18th green, raving about the 3-wood he loves so much, discussing how he was unsure if he ever had what it takes to win this championship, when he suddenly realized he was in demand.

The trophy presentation was taking place on the green -- where he was supposed to be -- and as Mickelson chatted, his name was being announced as the "Champion Golfer of the Year." He walked out, hoisted the Claret Jug, and gave a simple victory speech.

Off to the side, Bones sobbed some more, a man crying with joy.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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