COMMENTARY | Phil Mickelson completed the third leg of the career grand slam Sunday, blowing away the Open Championship field at Muirfield with his final-round 66 to win by three strokes, calling the achievement the greatest of his career.
It's hard to believe that it was just 35 days ago that Mickelson saw his most sought-after major championship slip through his hands, finishing runner-up for a record sixth time at the US Open. In the aftermath, it seemed as if the 43-year-old would never be an Open champion; destined to be the lovable loser who couldn't quite marry his insatiable desire with his undeniable talent to hoist one of the most iconic trophies in championship golf.
Heartbreak, devastation and doubt all clouded the left-hander's thoughts following his latest swing and miss at his national championship. He warned the assembled media that the loss would stick with him more so than any of his five previous second-place finishes, doing his best Sergio Garcia impression, saying, "If I never get the US Open, every time I think of the (it), I'll just think of heartbreak. … I think (Merion) was my best chance. "
If the US Open is Phil's "one that got away," the Open Championship has always been his "one that never gave him the time of day." Whether it be the conditions, the style of play required or the course set ups, for the first 12 years of his professional career, Mickelson admittedly detested links golf.
"I would fight the thick, heavy air," he said of his early experiences. "I would fight the wind off the tee. … It really changed for me back in 2004 when Dave Pelz and I spent some time over here and developed a shot that feels easy to get the ball on the ground and in play off the tee."
Prior to his ah-ha moment with Pelz in 2004, Mickelson finished better than T30 just twice with zero top 10s at the game's oldest major. Still, equipped with a better understanding of the shot types necessary, Mickelson only managed to have marginal success on the British Ises over the next eight years.
While the US Open teased as just out of reach for the big-hitting southpaw, the Open Championship simply seemed unattainable.
However, expectations changed quickly and dramatically for Mickelson in the build up to the 142nd Open as he captured the first European Tour victory of his career and first win on a links course at the Scottish Open the week prior to the third major of 2013.
Undoubtedly a confidence boost, Mickelson claimed to have keyed in on a "secret" to putting on Scotland's seaside fescue greens, but showed no signs of an advantage over the field even heading into the back nine on Sunday.
Playing solidly on a difficult day, Mickelson was at 1-over par for the championship through 12 holes and still two shots back of 54-hole leader Lee Westwood, needing to make something happen over a brutal closing stretch at Muirfield.
What happened next was career defining.
Mickelson birdied four of the last six holes to run away with the championship, cementing a three-shot margin with a birdie on the 18th that, despite being in the fifth-from-last pairing, sealed the victory.
The breakthrough was earned, not given, a distinction Mickelson cherishes.
"I've always tried to go out and get it," Mickelson said. "I don't want anybody to hand it to me, I want to go out and get it. And today I did."
Three-fourths of the way to the career grand slam, Mickelson has entered another pantheon of greatness in golf history, becoming one of only 19 men to have won five major championships. He also became only the fourth man to have won three different major championships since 1980, joining Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods.
Mickelson can take the next step toward legendary status next summer at Pinehurst, where the US Open will return 14 years after Payne Stewart handed a younger, childless Mickelson his first second-place finish at his national championship.
That chance is 11 months in the offing. For now, Mickelson will bask in the glory of winning golf's oldest major, conquering links golf and engraving his name on the most famous trophy in the game.
Chris Chaney is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based sportswriter. He has written for multiple outlets including WrongFairway.com, Hoopville.com, The Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer and The Clermont (OH) Sun.
Follow him on Twitter @Wrong_Fairway.
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