Since Tiger Woods last won a major, the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego, three different players have each won two of the 21 majors that have been played. Padraig Harrington won the first two after Woods’ injury in ’08, Rory McIlroy won the 2011 U.S. Open and last year’s PGA Championship, and now Phil Mickelson adds the 2013 British Open to his 2010 Masters title.
While Mickelson reached his fifth major, there are still 13 golfers with more. If he wins the PGA, he’ll catch Lee Trevino and Nick Faldo with six. But Phil’s fifth was one for the ages. Lefty came from five shots behind to win by three shots over Henrik Stenson, and putted only 26 times.
“I hit some of the best shots I’ve ever hit, putted better than I’ve ever putted,” he said. “I needed to show up and play some of the best golf of my career and that’s what I did. It’s a day I’ll always cherish.”
In the space of about 40 minutes, Mickelson went from two strokes back to picking up birdies on the 13th and 14th holes and getting the lead. As Lee Westwood and the rest of the field fell apart, Mickelson surged. Stenson said he realized on the 17th tee he’d completely missed Mickelson’s charge and was three back. “That was a bit sneaky of him,” Stenson told the media.
Having just turned 43, Mickelson is in the best condition he’s been in in some time, and his game is more mature than it’s ever been. The hard-headedness that affected his British Opens in the past has given way to utilizing lower shots to hit the green rather than the arching, wind-challenging approaches he used to hit. He’s still creative, but in a smart way. As he said, “It has been the biggest challenge for me to overcome, but now that I have done it I couldn’t be happier.”
Of the five major titles Mickelson has, three Masters and a PGA along with this Open, this was his favorite. He called the final-round 66 the best of his career.
“This is just a day and a moment that I will cherish forever,” he said. “This is a really special time, and as fulfilling a career accomplishment as I could ever imagine.”
While Mickelson came from five back to win, Woods remains stuck on 14 majors. If he doesn’t win the PGA Championship, he’ll be “tied” with Jack Nicklaus with fourteen through the age of 37. Once again, Tiger was in the hunt but couldn’t close the deal on Sunday. For the ninth time in 17 majors that he’s played since he won the U.S. Open in ’08, Tiger finished sixth or better. But when he got within two shots of the lead at the turn, Tiger fell apart. He bogeyed holes 10 and 11 to pretty much end his pursuit, and fired a 74 for the day, five behind Lefty for the tournament.
The bugaboo that is the weekends continues to haunt Woods. After firing a 69 on Thursday and a 71 on Friday, the weekend gave us a 72 and a 74. In his last six majors, according to ESPN Stats and Info, Tiger is 11-under on Friday and Saturday, and 23-over on the weekends. He’ll never come from behind to win a major, which he hasn’t done yet, if he can’t fix that problem. But he doesn’t turn 38 until the end of the year, and would be ahead of Nicklaus’ pace if he wins the PGA, even with Jack if he doesn’t.
It wasn’t too long ago that 43 was too old to win a major. Now, the last three winners of The Open have been 40-plus, and Mickelson is playing the best golf of his career. He’s at five majors, one behind Tiger since 2004, but we shouldn’t be surprised if he has five more in him before he calls it quits.