Golf gods not on Phil Mickelson's side, deny him history twice in four days
Phil Mickelson's final-round 65 at The Open Championship was among the year's best rounds -- just not enough to stop Henrik Stenson
The lip out on 18 on Thursday that denied Phil Mickelson a 62 and the single round scoring record in a major championship should have prepared us for Sunday. The golf gods were not on his side this week, refusing to provide him much help at the 145th Open Championship.
Prior to the final pairing on Sunday, the low round of the day at Royal Troon was a 67 by Rory McIlroy. Phil Mickelson bested that by two, shooting a 6-under 65 in his best final round performance ever in a major championship. And he did it in the final pairing.
Mickelson posted 267 for the week, tying the lowest aggregate score ever at an Open Championship (Greg Norman, 1993).
That should have won. That should have been enough to make history as the second-oldest Open Championship winner at 46, only days behind Old Tom Morris. That should have earned him his second claret jug and sixth career major.
Instead, it was only good enough to be the runner-up -- by three strokes -- and finish 11 strokes ahead of third place. As well as Phil played, he wasn't able to keep up with the pace set by Henrik Stenson, who blitzed Royal Troon with 10 birdies and a major championship record-tying 63 on Sunday.
Mickelson did everything he could. He birdied the first hole as Stenson made bogey to take a one-stroke lead. He applied pressure at every opportunity, but Stenson never broke and never yielded, closing with four birdies in his last five holes. After the round, all Phil could do was tip his cap.
"I thought we played pretty good golf," said Mickelson after his round during an interview with NBC. "I hit a lot of good shots and Henrik made 10 birdies. It was really impressive golf. He and I have been friends for quite some time, and I really like and respect him. I'm really happy for him, as much as I'm disappointed in the outcome. ... I threw as much at him as I could and he didn't make any mistakes. He made 10 birdies. It's just incredible play. What a great champion he is."
There's no one in golf currently that knows how to be gracious in defeat, especially when it comes in excruciating fashion, better than Mickelson. Sunday marked the 11th time that Mickelson has been runner-up in a major, second-most all-time to Jack Nicklaus' 19.
While he knows the feeling of being runner-up well, Mickelson seems to find new ways to finish in second every time we think he's done it all. He's had the blow ups on 18, the overall final round collapses and has seen players charge by him. But Sunday was a new runner-up experience for Mickelson in that he did exactly what he wanted to do and still fell short.
"I was hopeful that I could shoot something in the mid-60s. I thought anything in the 60s would've been a good round today," said Mickelson. "I played well enough to win by a number of strokes and got beat. I'm happy with the way I played but disappointed it wasn't enough."
Could he have done more? Maybe. He missed two good birdie looks on the left side of the hole early on and had a chip-in birdie lip out, but he also made some miraculous pars. Things always even out. Golfers always post a pre-round goal. The number in their mind they need to hit to win or have a chance. Mickelson's number was probably a 66 or 67, and he beat that with a 65. It was tremendous golf, and yet, he watched Stenson set fire to his chances with a machine-like 63.
You could hear the disbelief in Mickelson's voice every time he mentioned Stenson's round. "He made 10 birdies," noted Mickelson multiple times. It was a statement but could also be written out with a question mark behind it because Phil sounded like he needed confirmation that Stenson really just did that.
The answer, Phil, is yes, he did.
Mickelson may be the most patient man in golf -- a game of patient men. He waited years for his first major breakthrough, trusting his game, trusting the process to get him there. It worked, and he now has five to his name.
All that practice of waiting and being gracious is important because this week may have tested that patience more than any other. On Thursday, it was one of the cruelest lip outs in history that denied him the single round scoring record in a major. Instead, he settled for a 63 to set the course record at Royal Troon.
Three days later, he watched his course record get matched by his competitor in the final pairing of the final round. As luck would have it, Stenson's putt on 18 kindly caught the right edge and dropped in, rather than pop out as Mickelson's had, making for a perfect exclamation point on the day.
Mickelson watched his best chance at his first win since the 2013 Open get stomped on unmercifully, even as he played some of his best golf in recent years.
The golf gods have always challenged Phil Mickelson. For a long time, he didn't believe in them. On Thursday he relented and said he was made a believer by the lip out for 62.
I can't imagine what he thinks of the golf gods on Sunday after denying him history twice in four days.
Or perhaps he simply shouldn't have angered them by kissing the claret jug before his final round.
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