GULLANE, Scotland — One of the greatest final rounds in a major. Two of the best shots he would strike with a 3-wood. The third leg of a career Grand Slam.
Phil Mickelson never imagined any of this happening at the British Open.
No wonder he never took his hand off the base of that silver claret jug as he talked about the best Sunday he has had at a major. Five shots out of the lead, Mickelson blew past Tiger Woods, caught up to Lee Westwood and Adam Scott, and won golf's oldest championship with the lowest final round in his 80 majors.
With four birdies over the last six holes, Mickelson closed with 5-under 66 for a three-shot win over Henrik Stenson (70) at 3-under 281.
No longer is the San Diego native mystified by links golf born in Scotland.
"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, 43, said. "It's been the last eight or nine years I've started to playing it more effectively, I've started to hit the shots more effectively. But even then it's so different than what I grew up playing.
"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."
After Mickelson drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole, he thrust his arms in the air, hugged caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay and whispered to him, "I did it." After signing for the lowest final round in 16 British Opens at Muirfield, Mickelson huddled with his wife and three children — back from a quick holiday to Spain — for a long embrace and waited for the others to finish.
Westwood, who started the day with a two-shot lead, closed with 75 and tied for third at 1 over with Ian Poulter (67) and Adam Scott (72).
Scott, this year's Masters winner, took the outright lead with a 4-foot birdie on 11 and then closed as sloppily as he did at the Open last year, when he bogeyed the last four holes to lose by one to Ernie Els. Scott, who began the round three back, made four straight bogeys starting at 13 and a final bogey at 18.
Woods, two shots behind Westwood entering the day, stumbled badly on his way to 74 and finished 2 over with Zach Johnson (72) and Hideki Matsuyama (70).
At the end of a rough-and-tumble week along the Firth of Forth, Mickelson was the only player under par. In his four other major wins — three Masters and one PGA Championship — he never started the final round more than one shot behind.
"I don't care either way how I got this trophy. I got it," Mickelson said. "And it just so happened to be with one of the best rounds of my career, which is really the way I've played my entire career. I've always tried to go out and get it. I don't want anybody to hand it to me. I want to go out and get it. And (Sunday) I did."
One week after he won the Scottish Open in a playoff on the links-styled course of Castle Stuart, Mickelson was magical on the back nine of a brown, brittle Muirfield course that hadn't played this tough since 1966.
Tied for the lead, Mickelson smashed a 3-wood onto the green at par-5 17 to about 25 feet for a two-putt birdie, and he finished in style with the birdie putt on 18 to match the lowest score of the tournament (Johnson shot 66 in the first round).
"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 (on 18), 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."
One month ago Mickelson lost out on yet another chance to win the U.S. Open, the missing link of a career Grand Slam for him. He twice made bogey with wedge in his hand on the back nine at Merion and had his record sixth runnerup finish.
Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen are the only players to win all four majors.
"I think that if I'm able to … 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.
"And yet, this championship has been much harder for me to get."