Mickelson wins first Open Championship in 20th try
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
GULLANE, Scotland -- Jim "Bones" Mackay didn't mince words. Once he could get them out, that is.
The man who has caddied for Phil Mickelson for the last two decades was overcome with emotion Sunday after his boss drained a 15-footer for birdie at the 18th hole at Muirfield, then walked over to Mackay, hugged him and said simply, "I did it."
Mackay fought back tears as the two walked toward the scoring trailer, their arms draped across the other's shoulder, where Mickelson signed for a brilliant 66 that gave him a three-stroke victory at The Open Championship and the third leg of the career Grand Slam.
About 20 minutes later, when Mackay came out of the clubhouse and was surrounded by about 30 reporters, he lost it again. He even had to turn away, nearly sinking to his knees, before he could explain why he was so moved by Mickelson's fifth major championship.
"You work for a guy for 21 years," Mackay said, his voice cracking as he spoke slowly and deliberately. "And it's pretty cool ... when you see him play the best round of golf he's ever played ... in the last round of the British Open (to win). And that's why I was emotional."
Mickelson, for his part, was all smiles. He hugged his instructor, Butch Harmon, and his college coach and manager, Steve Loy, as he came off the course.
He embraced his wife Amy and their three children, Amanda, Sophia and Evan, holding them close as he waited for the final groups to finish and the results to become official.
"I'm in total shock," Amy said on one of the rare occasions she left her husband's side. "I'm speechless," she added, her fingers absent-mindedly touching her lips to add emphasis to her words.
Once he was handed that Claret Jug, though, and Mickelson made the traditional walk in front of the massive green grandstands and posed for photos, the trophy never left his grasp. His right hand rested on the base where his name had just been engraved throughout the interview that followed the presentation of the "Champion Golf of the Year."
"This is just a day and a moment that I will cherish forever," the 43-year-old Mickelson said. "This is a really special time, and as fulfilling a career accomplishment as I could ever imagine."
After all, the Open is the major many thought Mickelson was least likely to win with just two top-10 finishes in 19 previous appearances. But Mickelson felt like he turned the corner in 2004 when he and his short-game guru Dave Pelz came over to the UK and he mastered the art of playing the ball on the ground. Indeed, he finished third that year, one stroke out of the playoff Todd Hamilton won over Ernie Els.
On Sunday, though, when Muirfield's greens were particularly crusty, Mickelson's putter proved the difference. He closed with a back-ine 32 that included birdies on four of the last six holes and sent a message to the players faltering in the final four groups. Mickelson finished at 3 under, the only player in red numbers for 72 holes and beat Henrik Stenson by three strokes.
The conversation Harmon had with Mickelson before he teed off on this gray Scottish afternoon was not lost on the instructor.
"I said even par, 1 under could win this thing," Harmon recalled. "And he said, 'I'm going to do better' and he wasn't lying."
Mickelson's victory Sunday was all the more impressive considering it had come just four short weeks after abject disappointment as he finished second at the U.S. Open for a record sixth time. Mickelson had held at least a share of the lead each of the first three rounds at Merion but he bogeyed three of his last eight holes and Justin Rose claimed the prize.
And to be honest, Mickelson thought things could have gone either way after yet another collapse in a tournament he seemed to have so firmly in hand.
"You have to be resilient in this game because losing is such a big part of it," he explained. "And after losing the U.S. Open, it could have easily gone south, where I was so deflated I had a hard time coming back. But I looked at it and thought I was playing really good golf. ... And I didn't want it to stop me from potential victories this year, and some potential great play.
"And I'm glad I didn't, because I worked a little bit harder. And in a matter of a month I'm able to change entirely the way I feel."
Whether his success at The Open Championship ratchets up the pressure and makes the U.S. Open even more difficult for Mickelson to win remains to be seen. He'll get another chance to join the five World Golf Hall of Famers with the career Grand Slam next June on Pinehurst's famed No. 2 course, where Mickelson notched the first of his runner-up finishes a day before he became a father for the first time.
Mickelson, who now stands second in the FedExCup as well as the world rankings, loves what Mackay calls the "big stage" and prospers on it. And there are six of the biggest coming up with the PGA, the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational and the four FedExCup Playoffs in the next eight weeks.
Expect Mickelson to be a factor in them all.
"He's stronger than he's ever been, he's fitter than he's ever been and he's hungrier than he's ever been," Mackay said. "I can't understate how much he wants to compete and do well.
"I joke around with him all the time that when he's 60 years old, he's going to be on that putting green at Augusta thinking he's got a chance. That's just how he's built."
And Sunday at Muirfield Mickelson showed once again what he was made of.