DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Phil Mickelson has played some great rounds of golf in his Hall of Fame career. His greatest, he says though, came yesterday. At the not-so-young-age of 43, Mickelson, who's nicknamed Lefty, staged one dramatic comeback in the final round of the British Open and he won the tournament by three shots. The victory at Muirfield was his fifth major tournament title and the first-ever title at the British Open, which is known for its tricky courses.
Joining me now, NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. And Tom, I feel like if I played pro golf - and that's a funny notion - but this is the last course I'd ever want to play on.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: There is a unique treachery with the seaside links course courses, as they're called, David. To succeed you have to learn to keep your ball under the wind, 'cause it's very windy next to the sea, and you have to be prepared for the wind to shift like it did a lot of Muirfield - which is laid out in a circular pattern. You also have to try to stay out of these deadly sand bunkers - they're called pot bunkers - and knee-high rough. It is not fun. But amazingly, Phil Mickelson mastered that yesterday on the back nine.
GREENE: Yeah, not just mastered it. I mean he's five set shots out of the lead coming into Sunday on this hard course. How did he pull it off?
GOLDMAN: Muirfield dominated all of the players for three and a half days. And you watch them come off the course and you could just see it in their eyes; they're just mentally spent. But what Phil Mickelson did yesterday, he just absolutely said to the course: No, I'm taking charge. He birdied four of the last holes. His putting was fantastic. As great as his putting has been throughout his career, he said he never could really figure out putting on links greens. Well, he certainly did that yesterday.
And a number of players came up to him afterwards and seemed awestruck as they congratulated him. He shot a 66 that equaled the low score for the tournament, great timing to pull that one off.
GREENE: And at the age of 43, I mean that's not that old for a golfer.
GREENE: But I guess it's maybe the other side of this peak years. Is it surprising he's playing what he says is his best golf now?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, you know, not really. He has been playing very well. He lost a heartbreaker at the U.S. Open last month, finished in a tie for second. Now, that's the only major he still hasn't won, now that he's won the British. But he took time off after that, then he came to Scotland and he won the Scottish Open last week, and then Muirfield.
He said an interesting thing afterwards: He didn't know if he would ever develop the complete game needed to win a British Open. And that in itself speaks to, you know, a certain majority of a golfer needs: the shots, the patience, the creativity. Interestingly, the last three British Open winners have been in their 40's: Darren Clarke, Ernie Els and now Mickelson.
GREENE: You have to be experienced to win this tournament.
GOLDMAN: I think it helps. I think it helps.
GREENE: Well, you know, going into yesterday, I mean Lee Westwood of England is the leader. Was it a collapse? What happened?
GOLDMAN: Oh, it's kind of sad. I mean Lee Westwood, he's another 40-something, he couldn't hit the big shots when he needed to. And the championship slipped away from him and he's still carrying this title, this unfortunate title: Best Golfer Never to Win a Major. Since 2008, he's now finished in at least the top three in eight major tournaments.
GREENE: And I guess we have to bring up the name Tiger Woods. Another tournament; we seem to be waiting for him to win his next major. It didn't happen.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, he played some great golf during this tournament, as he's done in a number of majors in recent years. But the great golf wasn't there at the end when he needs it most. You know, and this, of course, stirs up the talk again - will he ever beat Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major wins? Woods is now stuck on 14.
David, these things are really hard to win. And it shows how amazing his stretch of dominance was, to win 14 by the time he was in his early 30s. He's now 37. He's got time. But he's developing a nasty habit of contending early and not closing like he did so often during his reign.
GREENE: Always stirring up the talk on sports, NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks, Tom.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.