November 15 2013
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
Phil Mickelson called it the greatest, most fulfilling moment of his career.
Who could argue?
A final-round 66 in difficult conditions at Muirfield to capture The Open Championship, a tournament many thought Mickelson would never win, including himself.
"I was never positive I would win this tournament," Mickelson said during an appearance Friday on Golf Channel's Morning Drive. "I always knew I would win the Masters, and I always believed I would win the PGA or the U.S. Open and I've come close in the (U.S.) Open but the British Open is the one that has always given me problems."
The victory was stamped by Mickelson's 3-wood approach on the par-5 17th, a shot that was nearly as difficult as it was spectacular.
A bunker left. Thick rough to the right.
"There was no margin of error," Mickelson said. "At some point in every golf tournament you're going to have to man up and hit a shot. You're going to have to pull off a critical shot, whether it was that 3-wood there, or the shot in the pine straw at 13 at Augusta. You're going to have to hit a shot if you want to win a tournament."
Mickeslon split the fairway and his ball whistled through the air and bounded onto the green to set up a two-putt birdie.
By the time he reached the final hole, he had gone from a tie for the lead to leading by two.
Still, he delivered again, holding a 6-iron up against a left-to-right wind on 18. The ball landed on the left edge of the green and settled 20 feet behind the pin.
"The grandstands were blocking the wind and my ball never moved," Mickelson recalled. "It was as well a struck ball as I could've hit."
After sinking the winning putt, Mickelson and caddie Jim Mackay embraced and Mickelson said, simply, "I did it."
It wasn't until this year, however, that Mickelson had putted well on the fescue greens, however. It also wasn't until 2004, he admitted, that he embraced links golf after finishing one stroke out of a playoff between Ernie Els and Todd Hamilton at Royal Troon.
"I started to appreciate the challenge of links golf," said Mickelson, who through his work with Dave Pelz had learned to take spin off his shots while keeping them low. "I was able to enjoy and appreciate the nuances of the ground and how it affects the ball and the shots required to play there."
Now he'll turn his attention to the one major he hasn't won: The U.S. Open.
Six times Mickelson has been a runner-up in the national championship, including earlier this year at Merion.
Next year's venue for the U.S. Open? Pinehurst No. 2, the site of his first heartbreaking runner-up.
Mickelson said he plans to mkae two or three trips there prior to tournament week.
He also plans to alter his schedule -- though he hinted that some of those changes would come later in the season.
"My performance leveled off and goes down a little as we get into the second half of the year," Mickelson said. "I think one of the changes that will take place is the second half of the year."
Mickelson cited the busy stretch of golf that includes little time off from The Open Championship onward.
Two weeks after the year's third major is the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational followed by the season's final major, the PGA Championship.
Two weeks after that is the first of four straight FedExCup Playoffs events. With it being a Ryder Cup year, there is no bye week in the 2013-14 Playoffs.
Add the new wrap-around schedule and events in Asia and "something has to give," Mickelson said.
In the meantime, he'll focus on completing the career Grand Slam at Pinehurst, where he lost to Payne Stewart and became a father for the first time the following day.
It was to that point in his career his most emotional week on the golf course. A return trip figures to be as well.
Said Mickelson: "That'll be such an emotional venue and opportunity to get my first U.S. Open victory."