GULLANE, Scotland — His coach was all business before the round. His caddie was in tears afterward. Only Phil Mickelson seemed to know how many magical moments he was capable of unfurling in between.
“I said, “Even-par or 1 under could win this thing.’ He said, ‘I’m going to be better than that,’” coach Butch Harmon recalled.
Harmon was standing near the 18th green in the fast-fading light of a cool Scottish summer afternoon. The roars from one of the great closing rounds in major championship golf was still ringing in his ears. He paused long enough to crack a wide smile.
“He wasn’t lying.”
Little more than 10 yards away, just after exiting the front door of the Muirfield clubhouse, caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay was still trying to regain his composure.
Someone asked about the tears he kept choking back. Instead, they started falling again.
“Because,” Mackay began, then turned away for nearly a half-minute. “When you work with someone for so many years, it’s pretty cool when you see him play the best round of golf he’s ever played in the last round of the British Open.”
This was the one major championship Mickelson never thought he could win. He came out on tour in 1992 oozing talent, a prodigy who won his first pro tournament while still in college, only to become another golfer once labeled the “next Nicklaus” who couldn’t break through in a major. Mickelson was 0-for-42 in that department and a dozen years into an otherwise stellar career when he finally won the Masters in 2004.
Another major came the next year at the PGA Championship. Then two more at the Masters. Along the way, he collected a record six runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open, the last just a month ago at Merion Golf Club, when Englishman Justin Rose zoomed by him on the final few holes.