Mickelson captured his first Claret Jug Sunday at Muirfield. (Carr/Getty Images)
By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
Bounces. They tend to even out over the course of a tournament.
At the 16th hole, Phil Mickelson hit what he called “a perfect 6 iron.” The ball landed 20 feet from the cup and then rolled back another 20 yards off the green. That same 6 iron on the 18th could have, maybe should have, bounced into a greenside bunker. Instead, it kicked onto the green and Mickelson made birdie.
What makes Mickelson such a great champion is his ability to stay emotionally level while coping with the good and bad bounces.
And to watch Mickelson birdie the final hole, walk off the green in tears with his caddie Jim Mackay and then embrace his family was one of the great moments of the golf season.
Strategy: Mickelson changed his approach at The Open Championship a couple years ago. He’s always had the ability to overpower a golf course by cutting a corner or carrying a bunker. The strategy frequently left him with bad angles but Mickelson could hit a 60-degree wedge and still make birdie. That doesn’t work at the Open. Mickelson would carry a bunker and the ball would roll through the fairway into a bad lie and leave an impossible angle into the green. This week, he didn't even carry a driver. Instead, Mickelson showed great restraint off the tee, sacrificing distance for the proper angle into the green.
Golf shot: Everyone will point to Mickelson’s approach into the 18th leading to birdie or perhaps his pair of 3-woods into the 577- yard 17th. I thought his par at the 16th was just as critical. A good tee shot was followed by a bad bounce and a chip to 10 feet but Mickelson made that par putt. The birdies at 17 and 18 may have won the tournament but Mickelson’s par at 16 allowed him to keep momentum, making those birdies possible.
Driving: What a curious tournament for Lee Westwood. He has struggled with his putting this year (he ranked 154th in strokes gained-putting on the PGA TOUR coming into the week). Meanwhile, Westwood has always been a great driver of the ball (he ranked 32nd in fairways hit). It was just the opposite this week. Westwood struggled with ballstriking and did not hit a fairway until No. 11 on Sunday. His putting was best in the tournament until the final round when a lack of accuracy, and perhaps pressure, led to misses.
Speed: Tiger Woods has struggled with the speed of the greens in his last three tournaments going back to the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance. He never seemed comfortable and three-putted twice in the first five holes. Woods said the speed of the greens got progressively slower as the tournament progressed, which is very unusual at a major championship. On the positive side, Woods appears healthy. He arrived at Muirfield with question marks concerning his elbow but the joint never seemed to affect his play. I do wonder if it affected his preparation for the tournament.
Conditions: The golf course changed dramatically from morning to afternoon. The combination of wind and sun turned Muirfield into a very difficult golf course every afternoon as the grass dried and the turf firmed. Greens received watering during the night but that moisture evaporated by Noon.
Setup: There was a great deal of both adjustment and guesswork required this week and that included R&A Officials who admitted some hole locations on Thursday were questionable. The course became even faster than what was anticipated and holes cut on the very edge of ridges became very difficult. You continually saw players grinding over 15 footers on Thursday, just trying to two-putt. Hole locations throughout the final three rounds were adjusted.
Fatigue: Players walked off the golf course this week absolutely exhausted. It wasn’t the 6-mile walk that had players tired, it was the mental concentration. The mental fatigue factor was off the charts as players coped with a firm, fast golf course and the pressure of a major championship. Muirfield was a very thorough examination.
Luck: British links courses are notorious for strange bounces. Drives pounded into the middle of the fairway can catch a mound and ricochet into the rough. Of all the courses in the Open rotation, Muirfield might be the most fair. Bunkers are not in the center of the fairway and the mounding is minimal. There will always be a “luck factor” involved in golf. Some balls hit into the rough and are tough to even find, while others are very playable. You can’t legislate for that discrepancy. The key is for the player to keep his emotions level and minimize his frustrations.
Preparation: Each player has his own way of preparing for a championship. Zach Johnson likes to play the week before competition, some like to prepare with practice rounds on-site, while others work on their games at home. It was an advantage for players to arrive early at Muirfield because they got to experience different conditions. The wind shifted 180 degrees from Thursday to Friday and many players struggled with the change of direction.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.