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July 24, 2013

Lefty Surprises With Open Win


Two weeks ago in this column I wondered whether Phil Mickelson would ever get over the hump and win a U.S. Open. Mickelson made it six runner-up finishes last month at Merion. I never addressed what might happen in last week's Open Championship. To be honest, I never imagined him being in contention, never mind winning it.

Lefty had not yet shown the ability to master a links style course. Just last year Phil didn't even make the cut at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Even his winning the Scottish Open two weeks ago didn't convince me he was capable of pulling off a victory at last week's major. With that being said, what Mickelson did at Muirfield proved his passion and drive to succeed is greater than many of us gave him credit for.

I felt Mickelson's showing at Merion would define his 2013 season. I thought he would take some time away from the game to reset his emotions; give some thought to where golf factored into his life.

At 43 years-old and playing a sport that favors youth, wasn't it time for Lefty to dial it back a bit? It was well documented that he took the red eye into Philadelphia the night before the U.S. Open in order to attend his daughter's graduation in California. Would his family take an even more prominent role in his life at the expense of his golf game?

Not the case. Instead Mickelson played even more golf to try to put the loss at Merion behind him. Phil proved that his competitive drive and will to win are still as strong as ever. As I thought more about Phil the competitor, I realized the only reason we view him as having less competitive spirit was because of the player he was compared with; Tiger Woods.

Tiger was seen as the focused, intense, driven golfer, doing anything in his power to reach 19 majors, whereas Phil was the anti-Tiger -- smiling, affable, sometimes goofy, family-man. But that story line often failed to give Mickelson credit for the intensity, passion, and drive he too possess for the game.

In contrast to Mickelson's back nine at Merion where he bogeyed 13 and 15 and blew a birdie putt on 16, he was flawless at Muirfield. He birdied four of the final six holes, and was reading putts as if he'd grown up on the course. The defining moment of the tournament came on his second shot from the fairway on the 575 yd, par-5, 17th. Phil hit three wood onto the green and after a lag put would finish with a tap-in birdie.

A month after wondering how Phil's career would unfold, he is officially in elite company. Mickelson joins Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods as the only players since 1980 to win three different majors. Just to make the victory a little sweeter, the top of the Open leader board was a "Who's Who" on tour, and Phil, who started five strokes back on Sunday, jumped every last one from Tiger Woods, to Lee Westwood and Adam Scott.

Now all attention turns to winning that still elusive U.S. Open. If I'm Lefty, I rent a house at Pinehurst and play the course four days a week for the next eleven months. But then again, maybe it's not imperative that Phil win the National Championship next year. He's proven this past week that there's plenty left in the tank. For our sake, hopefully that means many more thrills for our East End summer weekends.

Pete is a lifelong Montauk resident and former sports talk host at 88.7FM WEER. He's currently a Sports Anchor at WCBS 880 and WFAN radio in NYC. He can be reached via email at peterfmundo@gmail.com.

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