Muirfield mastery seals Lefty's place

Mickelson has clearly soaked it all in. Always good with fans and pro-am partners, he turned on the charm during last week's Scottish Open pro-am, grouped with the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, PGA of America president Ted Bishop and Stewart Spence, an Aberdeen businessman, hotel owner and golf lover.

Spence, a 60-something golfer and member at Royal Aberdeen, was an impressive figure on the links with a healthy-sized crowd following the country's political leader and golf's reigning Open champion.

On one hole late in the round, Spence was 150 feet off the green -- and elected to putt, rolling the ball over the humpy terrain (a classic links golf play) and seeing it come to rest a few feet from the hole. Mickelson reacted as if the man just won the Claret Jug himself.

"He's just what I always imagined, just really nice," Spence said. "Just an exceptionally nice person who puts everyone at ease. He's been terrific."

Mickelson's win at Castle Stuart last year was validation for him that the changes he made to play the links game had taken hold. He went to Muirfield with a quiet confidence, at ease. He played a late Monday practice round and then -- as he is so wont to do -- set up a money match for the Tuesday practice round.

He and Rickie Fowler took on Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, with the Mickelson-Fowler tandem walking away with the cash.

Fowler, for his part, jokingly believes he deserves some credit for Mickelson's win. "I think that inspired him," Fowler said.

"It was fun to watch [him win] being around him, being that we had played Tuesday together and spent some time there. To see him go through his game plan, see it play out and him play well down the stretch and to birdie the last. It was definitely a special week for him."

Players have been known to do some crazy things with the Claret Jug -- it is actually a replica; the original is in the R&A clubhouse in St. Andrews -- and Mickelson was no different.

His favorite was to take it to a golf course where he was playing and leave it in the pro shop while he was on the course so those who came through could see it, touch it, even drink from it.

"It's been really interesting to see the emotional response of people and how much they appreciate it and appreciate what a great trophy that is," he said.

But no more than Mickelson, who has loved every bit of the experience.

"I'm not taking anything for granted," he said. "It took me 20 frickin' years to get it!"

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