Muirfield mastery seals Lefty's place

"A long time ago, I had this friend from Ireland who said it would take me awhile to win the British Open," Mickelson said last week during the pro-am at the Scottish Open. "He said you'll win, but it's going to take time. And that kind of put me off a little. I was like, 'Really?' I didn't see that at all.

"And yet I struggled. I didn't have a bad attitude about it, but it frustrated me."

Figuring out how to play links golf has befuddled many players over the years. It is not for everyone. But if you are going to win the Open, you have to adapt. All of the courses used in the rotation are seaside links.

Unless you have warm, sunny weather without wind -- about as rare here as ice and cold beer -- controlling shots in the wind, learning to hit short of greens, hitting pitch-and-runs along the ground instead of flop shots and laughing when you get a bad bounce becomes paramount.

"He didn't have a bad attitude. He just didn't have the ball flight," Mackay said. "Geez, the guy grew up in California. It's like trying to putt on grainy greens. He had never seen them."

Mickelson always has played the power game. A long hitter, he hit the ball high, and could spin approach shots to get them close to the hole. That is, mostly, how golf works in America. Forced carries over hazards to difficult pins all but requires it. But flying the ball to the hole on a links course almost never works.

"The turnaround came in December of 2003, just before the 2004 season and it was when I started working with (short-game guru) Dave Pelz on hitting wedge shots without spin, and controlling the distances and the other yardages," Mickelson said. "That work we did carried over into my short irons, middle irons and ultimately my long game.

"The key to playing links golf from tee to green is being able to hit the ball not just low, but low without spin, and that's what I was struggling with and why I was always fighting it. I would swing hard. I would put more spin on it and the wind would have a greater effect."

Mickelson nearly won the Open in 2004, missing a playoff with winner Todd Hamilton and Ernie Els by a stroke. But he didn't contend again until 2011, that time more a story of a missed opportunity.

So hardly anyone was thinking of him at Muirfield when he entered the final round 5 strokes back. Lee Westwood was leading. Woods trailed by two, with Adam Scott another stroke back. Henrik Stenson and Zach Johnson were four behind. Mickelson was tied for ninth.

Scott took the lead from Westwood after the 11th hole. Meanwhile, Mickelson had played the first nine in 2-under 34. A bogey at the 10th seemingly knocked him out of it, but he rebounded with birdies at the 13th and 14th holes to tie Scott for the lead.

Mickelson added birdies at the 17th and 18th holes, and while about an hour of play remained, nobody could catch him. In fact, he blew them away, posting a score that was 4 strokes better than anyone who started the day in the top 10. He beat Woods, who shot 74, by eight.

It was simply one of the best closing rounds in major championship history.

"He won it in pretty iconic fashion," Mackay said. "I think he took a lot from that. In a sense, I think that really puts him at ease in terms of his legacy. He proved himself at that tournament to be one of the best players to ever play the game."

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