Mind Games: Mickelson’s ‘miracle at Muirfield’ best win ever?

2013-07-20 10:00

Phil Mickelson’s own assessment of his stirring victory in The Open Championship at Muirfield sparked a debate about whether he had played the greatest final round to win a major in the annals of golf.

Mickelson said it was “an amazing feeling winning this great championship – and play probably the best round of my career and hit some of the best shots that I’ve ever hit”.

There was consensus among the players that unusual heat, hard dry ground, extremely fast greens and tricky pin positions had made the old links an extreme test.

Ernie Els, who played in his first Open in 1992, described this year’s conditions as the toughest he had encountered and veteran golf aficionados wondered where to place Mickelson’s “miracle at Muirfield” in the pantheon of history.

Mickelson brought home a 66 on a course that didn’t yield a single bogey-free round in the week and on a day that the average score was 73.5.

His 66 was also the lowest final round ever at Muirfield.

He had played himself into contention by the turn, dropped a shot at the 10th, but then produced four birdies in his last eight holes to eventually win by three shots – his three-under total of 281, making him the only player under par.

His victory moved his majors tally to five and left him still needing the US Open title – a championship in which he’s been second six times, including this year – to complete a Grand Slam of all four majors after Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods.

In the afterglow of a wonderful day’s golf, it was easy to be carried along with the euphoria radiating from a man and a family who have overcome tough challenges.

Consideration over the next few days recalled other stirring final rounds in majors to rival Mickelson’s last-day heroics.

It is impossible to gauge which was the best ever final round charge because there are just so many, but one test should probably be whether the victor had been in contention – “in the shooting match”, as the Americans say.

Did he play when the tension was at its greatest or did he go out with little hope of winning?

Was he relaxed? Did he shoot a low round and end up with the lowest total as others succumbed to the pressure?

For instance, Louis Oosthuizen, having not won before, was able to lead from start to finish at St Andrews in 2010 and shut out the field with a closing round of 69 to win by a massive seven shots.

That must surely rank among the best-ever achievements even though, because of his utter domination, it lacked the drama of Mickelson’s victory.

Suffice to say that Mickelson has joined an elite group of players who have at least five major titles.

Jack Nicklaus tops the list with 18; Tiger Woods remains stuck on 14; followed by Walter Hagen (11), Ben Hogan (9), Gary Player (9), Tom Watson (8) and Bobby Jones (7), excluding his British and US amateur wins (which in a different era were considered majors).

Some great finishes have been consigned to the mists of time.

10 greatest final rounds to win a major

1. Jack Nicklaus (1986)

Shoots 65 to win the US Masters at Augusta, winning his 6th green jacket and becoming the oldest Major champion, aged 46

2. Gary Player (1978)

Shoots 64 to win the US Masters at Augusta, beating Rod Funseth, Hurbert Green and Tom Watson by one stroke to claim his 9th major

3. Tom Watson (1977)

Cards 65 in the final round to win the Open Championship by one shot in a head-to-head duel with Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry. Watson finishes the championship 65, 65 to Nicklaus’ 65, 66

4. Seve Ballesteros (1988)

Comes home in 65 to win the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes by two strokes from playing partner Nick Price

5. Tiger Woods (2008)

Limping because of an injured knee, holes a swinging 4m putt on the 72nd green at Torrey Pines to set up a play-off against Rocco Mediate in the US Open that he eventually wins on the 19th hole

6. Gary Player (1968)

Outlasts Jack Nicklaus in a tense round-long duel to win the Open Championship by two strokes from Nicklaus and Bob Charles.

Both Player and Nicklaus card 73, but the South African’s 3-wood between the “spectacles” bunkers within centimetres of the hole on the 14th for an eagle to trump Nicklaus’ birdie is considered one of the greatest pressure shots ever

7. Phil Mickelson (2013)

Comes from behind with a best-of-the-day 66 at Muirfield to claim his first Open Championship

8. Johnny Miller (1973)

Blasts through the field with a 63 to take the US Open at Oakmont

9. Greg Norman (1993)

Cards a 64 in the final round at Royal St George’s to beat Nick Faldo by two strokes in the British Open and set the lowest winning total of 267

10. Nick Faldo (1987)

Wins his first Open – shooting 18 successive pars in the final round at Muirfield to hold off Paul Azinger and Rodger Davis

 » Talk to us: What was the greatest finish you've ever watched?

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