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July 22, 2013

Lefty claims a trophy he thought might elude him

GULLANE, Scotland — Phil Mickelson wondered if he'd ever win this venerable trophy, the one he proudly posed with on Muirfield's 18th hole as photographers snapped away and fans chanted his name.

Raised on the lush, manicured courses of America, Lefty crafted a game that required one to look toward the sky. Booming drives. Soaring iron shots. Chips and wedges that floated, then spun improbably to a stop.

Beautiful to watch — except when Mickelson was trying to win the claret jug.

Links golf is played along the ground, a version of the game he fretted about ever mastering.

"It took me a while to figure it out," Mickelson said late Sunday, another step closer to a career Grand Slam. "It's been the last eight or nine years I've started to play it more effectively. But even then, it's so different than what I grew up playing. I always wondered if I would develop the skills needed to win this championship."

No need to fret about that anymore. He's the British Open champion.

He did it with the greatest round of his life.

Heck, it was one of the greatest closing rounds by anyone in major championship history.

While crusty Muirfield took out the other contenders — Down goes Tiger Woods! Down goes Lee Westwood! Down goes Adam Scott! — Mickelson blazed to the finish with a 5-under 66, matching the lowest score of the week in the pressure cooker of a final round.

Most impressively, he saved his best shots for the end, making birdies on four of the last six holes. The only challenge left was not to celebrate while eight of his rivals were still out on the course.

When Mickelson hit two exquisite 3-woods at the par-5 17th, the ball rolling onto the green for what he knew would be, at worst, a two-putt birdie, the championship was his to lose. Not that he hasn't pulled defeat from the jaws of victory before — most infamously in the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. So there is still a bit of trepidation among the Phil-natics when he strolled to the 18th tee.

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