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Phil Mickelson thrills his way to British Open victory

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports


GULLANE, Scotland – And out of nowhere, it's Phil Mickelson.

Just a few weeks removed from one of the most bitter defeats of his career, blowing the final-round lead at the U.S. Open, Mickelson crossed the pond and claimed his first-ever British Open championship in dominant fashion, winning by three strokes over Henrik Stenson.

"I can't explain the feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment," Mickelson said. "Today was one of the best rounds I've ever played."

He was an unlikely winner coming into the tournament, but even more so as he entered the final round five shots in the rear of third-round leader Lee Westwood.

To catch up, not only would he have to go low at Muirfield, which wasn't giving anyone much, but he'd have to leapfrog the likes of Tiger Woods and Adam Scott to do it.

He didn't just leapfrog them. The man whose vertical tops out at a few inches went Air Jordan … on t

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Phil Mickelson holds the Claret Jug. (Getty)

he entire field.

Playing in the fifth-to-last group, Mickelson made a pair of birdies on the front nine to pull within two strokes of the lead but still seemingly a long way from hoisting the Claret Jug, especially after a bogey at 10 moved him back to 1-over par.

That looked to be it for Lefty, as Muirfield's back nine had proven to be tougher to stomach than two-week-old haggis. Mickelson was 4-over on the back in the first three rounds, so what happened Sunday afternoon was, well, stunning.

A birdie at 13 moved him back to even par, then he hit the accelerator. Another birdie at 14, then another at 17 put him two shots clear of the field.

"The whole day [Caddie Jim Mackay] and I stayed in each shot trying to give ourselves the best chance possible," Mickelson said. "You need luck but you have to have the right bounces. When I made those putts on 13 and 14 that was amazing. You have to make those putts."

He walked up 18 to a standing ovation needing not much more than par to win it.

"Come on Phil, give us a thrill," one fan yelled.

Mickelson promptly knocked in a 14-foot birdie for a final round 66, tied for the lowest of the tournament.

Thrill given, engraving on the Claret Jug started.

The hug that came next with his family lasted longer than most, and why not? Mickelson has been in 19 Opens, finishing 40th or worse 10 times.

Those aren't the kind of results you'd expect from a genius shot maker in a tournament that requires genius shot making. But the old grip-it-and-rip-it Phil never quite fit the British mentality.

He came in with a different mindset this week, one he'd used to claim the Scottish Open a week ago. The only real hiccup all week here was a four-putt at 16 on Friday that very easily could have derailed his weekend.

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Phil Mickelson celebrates with caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay. (REUTERS)

But Mickelson shrugged it off then, believing he still had a chance, even if no one else did. And really, who did coming into Sunday, a day of total unpredictability.

Westwood not only started Sunday as the leader but the crowd favorite. The 40-year-old Englishman has spent years near the top of the world rankings but never the winner at a major. This is the tournament he most covets, and at 3-under, two shots clear of the field with 18 holes to play, it was his to lose.

A 4-over 75 would indicate that he did lose it. But if that's so, he wasn't alone. Playing partner Hunter Mahan also came in at 75. Adam Scott, who held the lead for a moment on the back nine, finished at 72. And Tiger Woods, only two strokes back of Westwood entering the final round, came in with a 74.

For Woods, it means 17 straight majors now without a win as the world's best continue to chip away at his once impenetrable aura. He's still never come from behind to win a major, and while it's a slight knock on a player with 14 of them in the bag, it counts for something.

Mickelson now has five major wins – three at the Masters, one PGA Championship and now one British Open. For the local crowd, it was a nice consolation. Lee Westwood was their first choice, but Lefty will do just fine.

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