5 Things: Mickelson's 'best round of career' earns 1st Open

Phil Mickelson poses for pictures with the Claret Jug after winning the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield.

Phil Mickelson poses for pictures with the Claret Jug after winning the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield.

Phil Mickelson birdied four of his final six holes – and made a critical par save at the par-3 16th – to clear Henrik Stenson by three shots and win his first Open Championship on Sunday at Muirfield.

Here are 5 Things to Know about Sunday's conclusion of the 142nd Open in Gullane, Scotland:

• • •

1. PHIL THE THRILL: Calling it the "best round arguably of my career," Phil Mickelson won his fifth major title Sunday, firing a 5-under 66 behind a brilliant back nine that saw him separate himself from the likes of Adam Scott and Lee Westwood.

Tied for the lead at 1 under after Mickelson's birdie on the par-4 14th – his second consecutive birdie – Mickelson picked up critical pars on Nos. 15 and 16 while Scott was amid four consecutive bogeys from Nos. 13-16.

With Scott falling off, Westwood seemed to be Mickelson's only test left. But the Englishman had trouble finding fairways and had seven pars and two bogeys on the back – allowing Mickelson's two-putt birdie at the par-5 17th and 12-foot birdie on the 18th to simply act as icing on the cake.

"(This is) the most fulfilling moment of my career," he told the crowd once putting his hands on the Claret Jug for this first time.

The birdie on 17 was the crushing blow – figuratively and literally. Mickelson used back-to-back 3-woods to get to the green in two, the second shot coming from more than 300 yards away.

"Those two 3-woods were the two best shots of the week, to get it on that green," Mickelson said. "As I was walking up to the green, that was when I realized that this is very much my championship in my control. And I was getting a little emotional. I had to kind of take a second to slow down my walk and try to regain composure."

Mickelson had come close to winning the Open in 2011, eventually finishing T-2. He also finished third in 2004. He also has missed four cuts, including last year, in 20 starts.

"This is such an accomplishment for me because I just never knew if I'd be able to develop the game to play links golf effectively," Mickelson said. "To play the best round arguably of my career, to putt better than I've ever putted, to shoot the round of my life . . . it feels amazing to win the Claret Jug."

Mickelson was the only player to finish under par, and had been critical of the setup at Muirfield after Thursday's round. His tune changed a bit Friday and he echoed that sentiment Sunday, having used four days to figure it all out.

"I want to thank the R&A for setting up a wonderful golf course," said Mickelson. "It was a demanding, physical test."

Mickelson's victory comes a month after his heartbreaking loss at the U.S. Open, faltering with the 54-hole lead at Merion. He'll need that U.S. Open title to complete the career grand slam, with Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan being the only players to have done so.

"I think that if I'm able to win the U.S. Open and complete the career Grand Slam, I think that that's the sign of the complete, great player," Mickelson said. "And I'm a leg away. And it's been a tough leg for me."

• • •

2. DEJA VU: This meltdown wasn't quite Royal Lytham & St. Annes for Adam Scott, but the Aussie won't have fond memories of the Open Championship for the second consecutive year.

Scott, starting the day at even, dropped two early shots at Nos. 1 and 4 to fall five shots back of Westwood. But three consecutive birdies from Nos. 7-9 and then another at No. 11 pushed the 2013 Masters champ to 2 under – and one clear of the field.

And then there was a poor tee ball on the par-3 13th that flailed out to the right, missing an 8-footer to save par after a nice chip shot. That seemed to derail Scott, who bogeyed his next three holes to drop out of contention.

"I hit a couple of weak putts out there; all of a sudden I got a run again that you don't want to be on," said Scott.

The back-nine struggles come a year after Scott gave up a four-shot lead with four holes to play, allowing veteran Ernie Els to win the Claret Jug.

"A bit of disappointment at the moment," said Scott. "But it was good to get myself back in the hunt."

• • •

3. WESTWOOD WOBBLES: Even for the day through six holes and still at a 3-under mark that would not be matched until Mickelson's birdie at the 18th, third-round leader Lee Westwood bogeyed four of his final 12 holes to post a 75 that left him T-3 at 1 over for the week.

The Englishman's troubles began during the three holes before making the turn, he said.

"Couple bad shots, couple wrong clubs in there, plugged it in the traps; dropped shots at 7 and 8 – and it felt like a dropped shot at 9, you know, the par 5 straight downwind, which is probably one of the few pick-up holes on this course," Westwood told ESPN. "I would say I didn't play great, but I didn't play poorly either.

"Nothing really happened for me, and I didn't make anything happen."

• • •

4. POULTER PUSHES LATE: Playing four holes in 5 under at the midpoint of any round is always a good way to turn in a good scorecard.

Ian Poulter's eagle at No. 9 and three straight birdies that followed immediately at Nos. 10-12 gave him a huge boost en route to the day's best round, a 67. His Sunday was only eclipsed by that of Mickelson, but got the Englishman to T-3 at 1 over for the week.

Poulter, who each of the previous days had plenty to say on social media after his round, was somewhat quieter when the tournament concluded.

After his round, his first post was simple via his Twitter account, @IanJamesPoulter: "I think Michelson has probably done enough. I gave it a good go. That's all you can do on a Sunday at the @The_Open. Thanks for the support."

A congratulatory tweet to Mickelson followed, naturally.

Poulter finished as runner-up in 2008 when Padraig Harrington won the Open. At age 37, he's still chasing his first win in a major.

• • •

5. SHORT SHOTS: Westwood's playing partner, Hunter Mahan, closed with a 75 at Muirfield just as he had in the final group at Merion during the U.S. Open. That put Mahan T-9 this week at 3 over. . . . First-round leader Zach Johnson, who fired the only other 66 of the week, closed with a 72 to finish T-6 at 2 over; it's his second straight top-10 finish after losing a three-way playoff at the John Deere Classic. . . . Second-round leader Miguel Angel Jimenez closed with his second straight round over par, a 73, to finish T-13 at 5 over. . . . Fifteen golfers broke par Sunday, the most since 20 did so during the first round.

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