The Open Championship: Mickleson wins his first Open, fifth major

Phil MickelsonPhil Mickelson of the U.S. celebrates as he holds the Claret Jug after winning the British Open golf championship at Muirfield in Scotland July 21, 2013. (Reuters)

On a daunting, historic course that has routinely separated the great golfers from the good, greatness had to come from behind on Sunday.

Phil Mickelson started the final round of the British Open five shots behind the leader, Lee Westwood. After nine holes, Mickelson was still three shots behind the barrel-chested Englishman with the mirrored sunglasses and so much to prove.

But Mickelson, at age 43, is now more than one of the very finest players of his generation. He is a great links golfer, too.

Born and raised in the target golf mecca of Southern California, where loft and length and backspin rule, Mickelson has gradually acquired the skills and self-control required to become an honorary Scotsman with a club in hand.

"Hate-love," he said last week of his relationship with links golf. "I used to hate it, and now I love it."

On Sunday, Muirfield, a classic course that plays very hard to get, loved Mickelson back. With the many other contenders faltering or failing to ignite, including Mickelson's longtime American rival Tiger Woods, Mickelson slowly gathered great momentum. He made birdies on all three of Muirfield's par-5 holes for a round of five-under-par 66 and closed with a flourish that gave him a three-stroke victory over Henrik Stenson with a three-under total of 281.

His wife, Amy, said that when he left for the course in the morning on Sunday he told her, "I'm going to go bring home a claret jug." He ended up doing just that.

"I just could not be more proud to be your champion," said Mickelson at the awards ceremony, the claret jug in his grasp. "I never knew in my career if I'd be equipped, if I would have the shots, if I would have the opportunity to win a tournament here. And to do it, to play some of the best golf, probably the best round of my career, and break through and capture this claret jug is probably the most fulfilling moment of my career, because it was something I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to do."

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