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How Phil Mickelson rebounded from Merion heartbreak to win at Muirfield

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports


GULLANE, Scotland – As Phil Mickelson left the house for work Sunday morning, he told his family, "I'm gonna go get me a Claret Jug."

It's hardly your typical goodbye and was a bit of a stretch for a guy sitting five shots behind the leader heading into the final round of the British Open; an even bigger stretch for someone who'd barely sniffed a win at The Open in 19 previous tries.

But Phil being an optimist – his glass is always more than half full, his wife Amy says – and chock full of more confidence than Ray Allen shooting free throws, he set out for Muirfield believing it could happen.

But how?

[Related: Phil Mickelson thrills his way to British Open victory]

How could Phil Mickelson be so sure of himself after what happened just a few weeks ago at Merion. He'd lost tournaments before, finished second in five previous U.S. Opens, but that one – holding the lead heading into the final round, blowing a pair of his signature wedges on the back nine, making one silly mental error – stung the worst, Amy says.

For two days he laid in bed, locked in a daze.

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Phil Mickelson gestures as he holds the Claret Jug. (AP)

"The most disappointed of any tournament," Amy said. "He was totally almost a shell, and that's not like him."

Montana got him out of bed.

The Mickelsons didn't exactly pack up the RV and hit the road, but they did have a trip with four other families and their kids planned before the U.S. Open happened, so Phil had to pick himself up out of bed and head to Big Sky country. The family packed the week with rafting, fly fishing, archery, shooting, a visit to Yellowstone – pretty much everything but golf and not a single spare minute.

"A great week with great friends who don't care if he's the U.S. Open champion or not," is how Amy explained it.

[Related: PGA Tour players send Phil Mickelson love, support]

The trip to Montana got him out of his funk, the win last week at the Scottish Open got him back on his game, and by the time he was walking up the par-5 17th at Muirfield on Sunday he could hardly contain himself. A quick glance at one of the new electronic scoreboards – this is the first British Open with electronic scoreboards on the course – showed him holding a one-shot lead. Knowing he had two putts to make birdie, Mickelson for the first time realized the Open was his to lose.

"As I was walking up to the green, that was when I realized that this is very much my championship in my control, and I was getting emotional," he explained. "I had to kind of take a second to slow down my walk and try to regain composure."

He'd wind up making the birdie on 17 and another on 18 – red figures he could have used at Merion and didn't end up needing at Muirfield – and won by three shots. But just as is usually the case with Mickelson, he provided the drama anyway – thrusting his arms in the air after dropping that final birdie putt knowing he'd won even though six players were still on the course.

[Also: Tiger Woods, Steve Williams bury hatchet at Muirfield]

Six weeks ago in suburban Philadelphia, Mickelson was virtually inconsolable. While Justin Rose celebrated his comeback, Phil was left to explain the pain.

"This one's probably the toughest for me, because at 43 and coming so close five times, it would have changed the way I look at this tournament altogether and the way I would have looked at my record," he said. "Except I just keep feeling heartbreak."

That heartbreak was nowhere to be found Sunday night. Standing on the 18th green next to her dad, one of Mickelson's daughters leaned in and said to him, "I can't believe it." Mickelson, sporting a smile Mike Tyson couldn't knock off his face, reached around to give her a hug, but with only one arm. The other was busy holding the Claret Jug.

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