Puff, the lead was gone. Scott eventually got to 2 under and led alone, but for the second straight year, he made four consecutive bogeys on the Open’s back nine — this stretch at 13, 14, 15 and 16 — and faded, a 72 that left him tied for third. Woods was never a true factor, struggling to 74. Mahan, in the final group with Westwood, made an eagle at 9 but gave it back with bogeys at 10 and 12.
And after he hit a 5-iron in to the 190-yard par-3 13th, Mickelson faced 10 feet for birdie.
“It was a putt that was going to make the rest of the round go one way or another,” Mickelson said, “because I just thought if I made it, it would give me some momentum.”
Not to mention make others notice. With that, Mickelson was even for the tournament. Take, right there, his own innate sense of theater, mix in the frail nerves of the groups behind him and the title was Mickelson’s. He sealed it with a steely up-and-down at 16 and two otherworldly strikes with his 3-wood — one from the tee, the next into the green — at the par-5 17th, leading to another birdie.
“That was when I realized that this is very much my championship, in my control,” Mickelson said.
What an unlikely statement had it been uttered 10 hours or 10 years prior. His first 17 appearances in the British Open yielded a lone top-10 finish. Now his name not only fits in nicely with the list of Muirfield champions — including Hagen, Player, Nicklaus, Trevino, Watson, Faldo and Els — but he can more easily move on from the devastation of a month ago, when he led the U.S. Open after 54 holes, only to place second for the sixth time.
“After losing the U.S. Open, it could have easily gone south, where I was so deflated I had a hard time coming back,” Mickelson said. “. . . 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.”
When he reached the 18th green with one last brilliant 6-iron and he rolled in the 12-foot birdie putt, he and Mackay embraced. Mickelson grew glassy-eyed. Mackay sobbed, his hat pulled low over his eyes.
“He’s a resilient guy,” Mackay said. “. . . How many people are going to build a practice facility in their yard, post-40? But he does, and he works really hard, and he wants it — really, really wants it.”
Mickelson now has his Masters, his PGA and his British Open. He is a U.S. Open title away from being the sixth player to win the career Grand Slam, from reshaping his legacy yet again but this time casting it in granite.
“I think that’s the sign of a complete player,” he said.
He is, it is clear, a complete player, a career’s worth of accomplishments upon which to look back. That, though, says nothing of what could be next because what Phil Mickelson accomplished here shows that 43 means little, that his best golf is happening right now.