DECORATED world No5 Phil Mickelson toasted his three-shot win at the Open as the “greatest of his career” at Muirfield yesterday.
The 43-year-old trailed overnight leader Lee Westwood by five shots going into the final round, but carded a magnificent 66, including four birdies in the last six holes, to win his fifth Major.
And Mickelson ranked the performance to clinch his first claret jug as his finest.
“This is probably the greatest and most difficult win of my career,” said Mickelson, whose victory follows his first ever title on British shores in last week’s play-off win in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.
“It’s the best I’ve ever putted, they kept flying into the hole and every iron shot was right on line.
“You can’t make it happen, you have to let it happen and I hit good shots which had good bounces giving me good putts that I made.
“Playing this championship was the biggest challenge of my career and I didn’t know if I had the skills to win on links golf but I played some of the best links golf I have ever played. It is amazing to be part of any Open championship and to win at Muirfield feels amazing.”
The only Major which now alludes Mickelson is the US Open, a tournament he has finished runner-up in six times, most recently to England’s Justin Rose at Merion five weeks ago.
But the possibility of a second English winner in a row was extinguished when Westwood conceded his third round two-shot lead on the back nine, finishing four over for the day to tie with compatriot Ian Poulter and Masters champion Adam Scott for third place.
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, though never in serious contention, scored his best finish at a Major when he birdied the 17th to take second outright, three shots behind Mickelson.
Westwood had stretched his lead to three with a birdie at the fifth hole, but admitted dropped shots at seven, after needing two attempts to escape a bunker, and eight saw his title tilt disintegrate.
“I didn’t play that badly, my round came unstuck at seven, eight and nine,” said Westwood, still seeking the first Major title of his career after 62 attempts.
“Phil must have played really well. To birdie four out of the last six here on any day is good going. But to do it on a breezy day with the flags blowing and in the Open championship is exceptional.”
Scott, runner-up last year to Ernie Els following a spectacular collapse on the final four holes, played his way into contention to win a second Major of the year after birdies at seven, eight, nine and 11.
However, the Australian revisited the nightmare of his Royal Lytham meltdown by carding four consecutive bogeys from 13 to 16 to surrender his challenge.
Poulter’s surging round of four under, which included an eagle at nine, was only bettered on the final day by Mickelson.
Meanwhile, world No1 Tiger Woods shot a disappointing 74 to finish five shots off the pace and extend his wait to win a 15th Major, and first since 2008.
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-3 Phil Mickelson (US)
PAR Henrik Stenson (SWE)
+1 Ian Poulter (GBR), Adam Scott (AUS), Lee Westwood (GBR)
+2 Hideki Matsuyama (JPN), Zach Johnson (US), Tiger Woods (US)
+3 Francesco Molinari (ITA), Hunter Mahan (US)
+4 Brandt Snedeker (US), Angel Cabrera (ARG)
+5 Justin Leonard (US), Miguel Angel Jimenez (ESP)