In 2013, Phil Mickleson produced a final round of immense class at Muirfield to take home the Claret Jug at The 142nd Open Championship.
Winning golf's original major at the 20th time of asking - over two decades after making his Open debut as an amateur - would have been special enough in any circumstances, but Mickelson achieved the feat thanks to one of the greatest rounds of his career.
He came into the tournament in red-hot form, having won the Scottish Open the week prior at Castle Stuart, and was looking to capitalise on that form at Muirfield.
“I had a lot of confidence that I had the game and I was playing well enough at the time to win The Open Championship,” said Mickelson, who turned 50 on Tuesday. “I kept trying to find a way to outsmart or outplay Muirfield, and I just gave up on that and decided to not try and overpower the golf course.
“I felt like I was gonna handle whatever conditions were thrown at me, no matter how difficult or challenging or fair or unfair. I felt like I was gonna be ready for it.”
Mickelson played well on Thursday, shooting a round of 69 to lie three strokes off the lead. After shooting 74 and 72 the next two days in brutally difficult conditions, he found himself five shots behind front-runner Lee Westwood at two over par.
“What I did really well was mentally not worry too much about what other guys were doing,” Mickelson said. “Because I knew, at the end of the day, the winning score was gonna be around even par.
“The course was just too testing. There would be a few guys that might be able to shoot under par, but the field wasn’t going to be able to and those few that did shoot under par eventually would come back, so I focused more on keeping my score around level.”
Mickelson started his final round with four straight pars before utilising the contours of the fifth green to play a wonderful pitch shot, yielding a tap-in birdie. Three further pars followed before Mickelson birdied the par-5 ninth hole to make the turn at level par for the tournament.
Mickelson would bogey the 10th hole before parring 11 and 12. Yet while he was one over for the tournament, his pre-round words were holding true.
Westwood had come back to the field, and great rounds in progress from Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Ian Poulter were not without the occasional mistake.
It was standing on the 13th tee, however, when Mickelson’s bid for The Open really kicked into gear.
“There was a critical point in that final round on the back nine, on the 13th hole, where I hit one of my best quality 5-irons to about 12 feet behind the hole,” he explained. “It was the best shot I had hit. It was this beautiful penetrating five-iron into a severe wind.”
“I was one over par and I knew even was going to be about the winning score, so I had to make this putt. When that putt went in, that’s when I felt like I’ve got a chance, this is my real opportunity now.”
Mickelson followed up his birdie on 13 with a 25-foot putt on the next hole to move into red figures for the tournament, eliciting a huge roar and celebration. The four-time major champion was now in prime position to win The Open.
“As great as I was playing, every shot was critical,” Mickelson said. “You had to focus on every single stroke because of the difficulty of the golf course, and you didn’t want it to shake you.”
Par on the 15th hole followed, and Mickelson now held the outright lead by a stroke over Scott and Westwood. The 16th hole presented him with a stern challenge, yet it was one he proved equal to.
“On 16, somehow the ball rolled back down off the green into a very tough spot to get up and down,” Mickleson continued. “I was very upset after that but I kind of turned my attitude around and knew that everybody else was going to have to play this.
“I knew that my short game is as good or better than everybody else’s and if I can get this one up and down everybody else is going to struggle with this hole. I had to make sure I got it up the slope and I hit it a touch too firm, to go about six or seven feet by the hole. That putt, that was a big putt.”
After making par on a brutal hole the rest of the leaders had yet to play, Mickelson had dealt a hammer blow to the field. His second shot on 17 then proved decisive.
“Knowing that the penalty for a miss on my second 3-wood was going to be devastating, I didn’t have a bail-out,” Mickelson said. “I had to hit this shot perfectly.”
“If you want to win tournaments, you have to take risks, and people that aren’t willing to take those risks are missing out, are missing out on the excitement of the game and missing out on controlling their own destiny.”
Knowing he could ill-afford to miss left or right, Mickelson played a magnificent shot into the heart of the green to set up a two-putt birdie. It was one of the best shots ‘Lefty’ had ever hit under pressure, and the Claret Jug was now within his grasp.
“I knew if I made par on the last hole that I would win the tournament,” he said. “If I could get the ball in the fairway, that was going to be half the battle to making par. I hit a hybrid, right up the left side. Then I really hit a good six-iron there, right at the left edge of the green where I wanted it.
“It never quite moved to the right like I was expecting the wind to move it, but it was as solid a six-iron as I could have hit and I did get a good bounce to run down the green and be 18 feet from the hole.”
Mickelson duly rolled in the putt to card a final-round 66, a superb effort in the breezy conditions, and win The Open by three shots. In his 20th Open, 22 years after playing in his first, he had finally conquered golf’s original major, and done so with a very special round.
“It’s just an amazing feeling to win this great Championship and to play probably the best round of my career, hit some of the best shots I’ve ever hit and putt better than I have ever putted,” he stated.
“I needed to show up and play some of my best golf, and I did. I played some of the best golf of my career.”