No way it would happen this way. No way Phil Mickelson would be in position to win a British Open before a U.S. Open. The roughs were too punishing, the winds too unpredictable, the greens too hard.
And yet, here we are. Phil Mickelson did what Phil always does: flew in under the radar on Sunday at Muirfield and turned in one of the finest rounds of his career. On a day in which all attention was focused on whether Lee Westwood could win his first major, whether Adam Scott could double up his 2013 total, whether Tiger Woods could get his next one at last, it was Mickelson who stepped in and turned in the round of the day.
He began the day five strokes behind Westwood. He turned in a -5 round, paced by six birdies, and ended up tying the low round of the entire tournament, to finish at -3 for the tournament.
He was led by his putter. Earlier in the week, Mickelson had hinted that he'd solved a putting problem on the other side of the Atlantic, that he'd discovered a secret that had allowed him to win the Scottish Open a week ago Sunday. Most observers wrote that off as Phil being Phil. Who knew that he knew something we didn't?
Mickelson's key stretch came starting at hole 13, where he reeled off four birdies in six holes. He capped it with an exceptional approach shot on 18, a chip that hit pin-high but, instead of rocketing straight into the bunker, instead curled around and headed back toward the pin. And then he birdied the hole to finish the day with a 66. Of course he did.
"I'm playing some of the best golf of my career, and today was one of the best rounds I've ever played," Mickelson said afterward. "It's the best I've ever putted. I was seeing the line, the ball was rolling, it was going in the hole….just an incredible day on the greens."
Mickelson entered the clubhouse three strokes clear of Westwood and Scott. From there, all he had to do was wait ... and smile.
-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-