New Open champion completes back-to-back wins in the home of golf
A winner of four majors? Make that five. Phil Mickelson stormed through the field to follow up last weekend's Scottish Open win at Castle Stuart with victory in the Open Championship at Muirfield.
The 43-year-old posted a stunning five-under-par round of 66 to equal the lowest round of the week, be the only man under par, and give himself a hard-fought but thoroughly deserved two-shot win in the world's oldest professional golf tournament.
As the TV cameras homes in on the pairings of Lee Westwood and Hunter Mahan, and Tiger Woods and Adam Scott - clearly believing the winner would come from those two groups - Mickelson quietly went about his business, slowly climbing the leaderboard before staging a grandstand finish with birdies on four of his last six holes.
In the end, as the players who started after him fell gradually away, it was Phil who was left as the last man standing - and the man who got to leave East Lothian holding the Claret Jug.
"This is just and amazing feeling winning this great championship," said a visibly shell-shocked Mickelson afterwards. "I played probably the best round of my career and hit some of the best shots that I've ever hit. I certainly putted better then I've ever putted.
"Getting ready for today, I just thought, 'I need to bring my 'A-game'. I need to show up and play some of my best golf and I did. I played some of the best golf of my career. It really is special. It's a day I'll always cherish, always remember."
Mickelson, who now climbs to No.2 on the world rankings following back-to-back wins here in the home of golf, added that the seeds of his first major victory since the 2010 Masters had been laid in last week's Scottish Open in the Highlands.
"It was a special week for me last week because I was playing so well," said the left-hander. "It gave me confidence heading into this week and was exactly what I needed to propel me into this championship. Playing well in that final day in difficult conditions gave me the confidence that I could play some of my best golf on links courses and today was as good as I could play. It was one of the best rounds I've ever played."
As well as the Claret Jug, Mickelson pocketed a cheque for £945,000 and matched Darren Clarke's record of winning on his 20th start in the Open. The reason it has taken him so long to win the game's most prized title is, he said, pretty easy to answer.
"It took me a while to figure out links courses," he admitted. "It's been the last eight or nine years that I've started playing it more effectively. I've started to hit the shots more effectively. I always wondered if I would develop the skills needed to win this championship and, to finally capture this, it feels really, really good."
The win also came just a month after he finished second in the US Open for a sixth time, a disappointment he described as 'heartbreaking'. However, holding court in his press conference afterwards, during which his hands never left the Claret Jug, Mickelson admitted his victory at Muirfield had gone some way to making up for that.
"It's a hue difference in emotions, as you can imagine," he said. "Being so down after the US Open to come back and use it as a motivation, to use it as a springboard, knowing that I'm playing well and to push me a little bit extra to work harder to come out on top, to turn it around in a matter of a month really feels amazing.
"You have to be resilient in this game because losing is such a big part of it and, after losing the US Open, it could easily have gone south, where I was so deflated I had a hard time coming back.
"But I looked at it and thought I was playing some really good golf. I had been playing some of the best in my career and I didn't want it to stop me from potential victories this year and some potential great play, and I'm glad I didn't because I worked a little bit harder. Like I say, in. a matter of a month, I've been able to change entirely the way I feel."
Unsurprisingly, Mickelson still has his sights fixed on winning the US Open one day, not least because it would now seal the career 'Grand Slam' for him.
"If I'm able to do that, that's the sign of the complete great player," he said. "I'm a leg away and it's been a tough leg for me. But I think there are five players that have done that and those five players are the greats of the game, you look at them in a different light. I'm hopeful that I will one day win the US Open but it has been elusive for me. Yet this championship has been much harder for me to get."
He added: "This is just a day and a moment that I will cherish forever. This is a really special time and as fulfilling a career accomplishment as I could ever imagine."