Phil Mickelson flashes a smile after capturing the Claret Jug.
(Photo: Paul Cunningham, USA TODAY Sports)
GULLANE, Scotland (USA TODAY) -- As he wrapped up his practice session before Sunday's final round of the British Open, Phil Mickelson had a little chat with his coach, Butch Harmon, who told his pupil that even-par or 1 over could win the 142nd edition of the oldest championship in golf.
"I'm going to be better than that," Mickelson told Harmon despite the fresh breeze blowing
"He wasn't lying," Harmon said.
LEADERBOARD: 142nd British Open
Starting the day five shots behind - and one month after another heartbreaking loss in the U.S. Open - Mickelson made birdie on four of his final six holes on the brutally tough ancient links at Muirfield Golf Club to pull away from a tight pack to win the fifth major of his career.
HOLE BY HOLE: Mickelson wins it, Tiger fades
Under overcast skies, Mickelson fired a final-round 5-under-par 66 - matching the low round for the week - to finish at 3 under par, topping Henrik Stenson by three shots and late-charging Ian Poulter, overnight leader Lee Westwood and Masters champion Adam Scott by four.
EMOTIONS: Mickelson shares moment with family
"This is the greatest feeling I've had in the game," said Mickelson, 43 years young who, you recall, went through 42 majors before winning his first in the 2004 Masters. "It's probably the greatest round of my career."
TIGER WOODS: Major drought continues
He won't get any arguments from his wife, Amy, who along with the couple's three kids, was in step with Mickelson on the back nine. Nor will you get a rebuttal from his caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, who had tears in his eyes walking off the 18th and choked up talking about his friend after the round.
"When you work 21 years for a guy it's pretty cool to see him play the greatest round of golf he's ever played in the last round of the British Open," Mackay said. "He hit it great, he putted great. ... The guy has done a lot of really cool things on a big stage. He wants to be on the big stage, wants to hit big shots when it matters. Today he did that."
While Mickelson made his breakthrough in the British Open to add the Claret Jug to his three Masters titles and a win in the PGA Championship, Tiger Woods remained stuck on 14 majors, closing with a 74 to finish in a tie for sixth. Woods has now made 17 starts in a major since winning his last in the 2008 U.S. Open.
"It was frustrating. I played well. I could just never get the speed (of the greens) right," Woods said. "We started on the first day and it progressively got slower. And that's usually the opposite at most tournaments. It usually gets faster as the week goes on, but this week it was different.
" ... I'm very pleased with the way I'm playing, there's no doubt. I'm right there and I hit a ton of good shots this week, and the only thing that I would look back on this week is I just never got the speed after the first day, because it progressively got slower.
" ... I've won 14 and in that spell where I haven't won since Torrey, I've been in there. It's not like I've lost my card and not playing out here. So I've won some tournaments in that stretch and I've been in probably about half the majors on the back nine on Sunday with a chance to win during that stretch. I just haven't done it yet. And hopefully it will be in a few weeks."
And it wasn't a merry old time in England. Favorite son Lee Westwood, the overnight leader who was looking for his first major title in 62 starts, failed to hold on to the lead he took to the inward nine. Desperately hoping to join the brilliant British Summer of Sport that has seen Andy Murray crowned the king of Wimbledon, the British and Irish Lions rugby squad win the tour series in Australia, and Chris Froome on his way to becoming the second consecutive Brit to win the Tour de France, Westwood stumbled with his usually superb iron play.
"I keep putting myself in contention," said Westwood, who notched his eighth top-three finish in a major since the start of 2008. "I didn't do a lot wrong today. I just didn't do enough right. I know what I've got to work on."
Steve DiMeglio, USA TODAY Sports