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PGA Tour Confidential: Phil Mickelson wins the British Open

Photo: Thomas Lovelock / Sports Illustrated

Phil Mickelson birdied the 18th hole on Sunday to seal his first career British Open title.

Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Where does Phil Mickelson's 66 at Muirfield on Sunday rank among the finest final rounds in major history?

Joe Passov, senior editor, travel, Golf Magazine: Considering how difficult the course played, as well as the quality and quantity of the other contenders, this ranks awfully high. Johnny Miller's 63 at Oakmont in '73 was insane, considering how many long approaches he put to within 10 feet, but Muirfield's setup was not at all conducive to close approaches, so really impressive stuff. Putting more tricky than difficult (versus Augusta and U.S. Opens, for instance), but bunkers more problematic. Not No. 1, but top 5 for me.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Phil's 66 ranks with the best of all-time. Especially when you consider that he birdied four of the last six holes during a week when playing those holes in even par was cause for celebration.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: It might break into the top 20. Major championship history covers a lot of ground. Phil's finish was terrific but there have been a lot of great ones before. It was a treat to watch.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: It's one of the best final rounds I've seen him play, I'll give you that. I'd rank it up there with his final-round 69 to win the '04 Masters for his first major. I liked how he stuck to his game plan -- conservative, which is definitely against type for our Phil. Also, the guy finished his round in shirtsleeves. It was cold out there!

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Phil's turned in some great final rounds of his own, and he called this one the best he's ever had. That automatically places this round in the pantheon. A few years from now, I wouldn't expect to watch a "Top 10 Countdown" on this topic without see Phil at Muirfield in there somewhere.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com: It's hard to beat shooting the low round of the week on Sunday afternoon on a brutally difficult course. What stood out to me was how lacking in drama it was. We're accustomed to seeing highs and lows from him in the final round of a major -- wild drives, putts sliding by the hole late -- but Mickelson was just impressively steady all day.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I don't know where it ranks, but in the conditions, and given the players he had to leap from, it's the best final round in a major I've ever seen, including Tiger at Pebble in 2000 and Tiger at Augusta in '97, which were clinics but he didn't need to do much. Mickelson had no margin for error, despite the three-shot win.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Nothing will ever beat Jack's final round at the 1986 Masters, but Phil's 66 Sunday was pretty darn impressive. Especially given how Phil started out the week by bashing the setup after his opening round, you'd think he was talking himself right out of the tournament.

2. Mickelson now has five major championship, 42 wins, a U.S. Amateur and six U.S. Open runner-up finishes. What is his place in golf history now, and where do you think he will finish?

Bamberger: His place in golf is unique, because of the U.S. Open history, because of the personality, because of the autographs, because of the giving nature, because of the family health issues, because of the rumor-mongering he has had to endure. He seems to be living large and loving it and how many can say that these days?

Morfit: Gary Van Sickle addressed this recently, and I think he was right. He said Phil would win two more majors. He's now won one more. I think he has one more left in him, which will give him a total of six. He'll then rank up there with Lee Trevino, just a couple majors short of Tom Watson.

Van Sickle: Phil will go down as the second-best player of his generation, overshadowed by Tiger Woods. He'll have to be considered among the top ten players of all time, but he'll also be remembered for his close calls in majors -- 13 fall into the coulda-shoulda won category. He could be challenging Jack's record.

Godich: He's in the top 10 -- and climbing. He lives for the majors, and the way he won the Open Championship will only fuel the fire. Remember, this is a guy who wondered whether his game was suited for the links style of play.

Reiterman: If Phil can win a U.S. Open and complete the career slam, I think he'll be top 10 all-time. Right now I think he's just outside the top 11 -- Woods, Nicklaus, Palmer, Player, Jones, Hogan, Nelson, Snead, Watson, Sarazen and Trevino.

Ritter: He's the second-best player of this generation, and one of the best of all-time. When Golf Magazine ranked the 20 best players of all time in 2009, Phil landed just outside the top 20. Gotta think he's moved up at least five spots by now, and probably more.

Lynch: Winning the Open and the third leg of the career slam is huge personally for Mickelson -- it's the one event his detractors said his high trajectory/high spin game couldn't handle -- but it doesn't really burnish his legacy all that much. He was already far away the second best player of his generation. He still is.

Passov: For way too long, he's been overlooked as one of history's greats, due to Tiger's dominance and to his own run of excruciating losses. He also hasn't done much on the world stage, and somehow, with his length, short-game genius and shot-making prowess, he's still one major behind Nick Faldo. This fifth major -- and third different one -- elevates him to a different level. Honestly, he's right there in Tom Watson/Arnold Palmer/Gene Sarazen/Lee Trevino/Seve Ballesteros/Walter Hagen territory, just behind Sam Snead and Byron Nelson, though still looking up at the Mount Rushmore of modern golf, Nicklaus, Woods, Jones and Hogan. After his physical and family issues, I never thought he'd accomplish this. As pure as he's playing right now, he still could climb.

3. Muirfield: A great course and setup to produce this leaderboard and champion, or too firm, fast and fiery, where too much defensive play resulted?

Bamberger: Oh, completely great. If you don't like Muirfield you have absolutely a weird sense of golf. Playing it might be a different matter -- I'd rather play up the street at North Berwick -- but for a good player it's absolutely one of the best. And the setting is profoundly lovely, civilized and timeless.

Passov: I love "firm and fast," but not skating-rink firm and fast. For only one player to break par in an event where weather was not much of a factor strikes me as an over-the-top setup. I don't understand why so many out there think that even par should be so heralded in a major. It's not like I've been sitting back watching Opens on TV for the past 40 years thinking, "Boy, this would be so much better if the course were tougher." When Seve edged Watson in '84 at St. Andrews, he finished 12-under. Did that somehow detract from his accomplishment? When Norman conquered Royal St. George's in '93, at 267, 13-under, Faldo, Langer, Pavin, Els, Price and Couples -- all World Top Tenners -- finished 10th or better. It was awesome stuff. Ernie finished 6-under in '02 and 7-under last year and both were riveting. Let the boys play a little bit --and if the weather conspires to drive up scores, fine. It shouldn't come from the course setup.

Godich: I had no problem with the setup. The Sunday leaderboard was testament to what a strong and fair test Muirfield was.

Van Sickle: It looked to me like the British Open got hijacked and somebody substituted a U.S. Open, where birdies were almost only by accident. This is the year the Opens went back to Merion and Muirfield, throwback courses, and officials were going to make darned sure they didn't yield low scores. They succeeded.

Lynch: There's no such thing as too firm or fast on a links course. The complaints were over tucked hole locations, which have long been the R&A's method of protecting par on burned-out courses (see Hoylake '06). Links golf demands imagination and patience in equal measure, so it's no surprise that Mickelson emerged on top. Muirfield is a terrific course, arguably the best on the Open rota. It's just a shame the members' attitudes haven't evolved much since the club was founded in 1744.

Reiterman: After a few questionable hole locations on Thursday, I thought Muirfield was great. There were all the quirky bounces and tough lies you'd expect from links golf, and Mickelson's great shots were rewarded coming down the stretch on Sunday. What's not to like?

Ritter: The leaderboard speaks for itself. Sunday held tons of interesting possibilities and it produced a great champion. I'd take that every year.

Morfit: I liked it. The area is incredibly dry -- Please replace your dust, I mean divots! -- and I think the R&A did a good job with what they had. There were maybe a few hiccups on Thursday, but to their credit the R&A officials seemed to listen to Phil and Poulter's rants and reacted accordingly.

4. Tiger Woods got himself into contention but just never looked right Sunday, letting another major slip away. How many more will he win in his career, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 or more? Have you ever seen Tiger more frustrated while in contention?

Lynch: What was once the most dependable thing in sports -- Tiger's dominance on Sunday in a major -- has now become a depressingly distant memory. It's hard to win majors if you don't trust your swing when it matters most, and today he produced considerably more F-bombs than birdies. His greatest weapon was always his self-belief but that's gone. I still say he gets to 16 majors (he's going to back into at least one more) but his chances of beating Jack's record are gone, I say. Think about it: he now needs Phil's career wins in the majors from this point on. It ain't happening.

Morfit: I'm going to go with Greg Norman's assessment a few years ago -- I don't think Tiger's going to win any more majors. And that pains me to say, but I just don't like the way he looks in the majors anymore.

Reiterman: I'm sticking with Tiger beating Jack's record, but he's got to stop letting these great opportunities slip away. More troublesome was Woods was never part of this tournament on Sunday. He bogeyed the first hole and never recovered. It's not shocking that he didn't win today, it was shocking that he was never a factor.

Ritter: Ever since the hydrant, I've said Tiger will win two more majors, and I'm staying with it. He's back to No. 1. He's won four times this year. Sooner or later, I think it'll come together for him at one of the big ones. But passing Jack? I don't see it.

Passov: He'll win two more. He not only doesn't make putts like he used to, he doesn't intimidate like he used to. Yet, he's in the hunt, on Day 2, Day 3 and often Day 4, almost every major. That counts for something (see McIlroy, Rory, Donald, Luke, and a zillion others.) Personally, I think he's been this frustrated every time he's been in the hunt the last four years.

Godich: Tiger will win a couple of more majors, but he isn't catching Jack. Every shot is such a grind. You can see how it wears on him. And I've said it before: He's an old 37.

Van Sickle: After one of Tiger's U.S. Amateur wins, Earl Woods predicted that his son was going to win 14 majors someday. Maybe dad was right on the money.

Bamberger: I do not know how many more majors Tiger will win. If I did I would use my powers for more constructive things.

5. Adam Scott was in pole position Sunday until he had a 2012 Royal Lytham flashback and made bogey on four consecutive holes again. Why did the wheels come off for Scott?

Passov: He said it himself: "Every error (at Muirfield) is magnified by the severity of the course." He hit a few crap shots when he needed good ones, and missed a few makeable par-savers -- but didn't everybody except Phil do the same thing?

Morfit: He looked unsteady with the putter -- I knew it the moment he left his roughly 12-foot eagle putt short on nine. Steve Williams looked disgusted.

Ritter: Putting. It's always his putting. Watching him hit tee shots and irons live, you wonder how he doesn't win five times a year. The putt that clearly hurt him was on the par-3 13th. He hit his tee shot into the fescue right of the green and pulled off -- or got away with -- an unbelievable chip off a sidehill lie that barely cleared a pot bunker and settled to six feet. Then he just flat-out pushed the par putt. He bogeyed his next three holes after that.

Godich: It was the tee shot at the par-3 13th. He had the lead and was the best ball-striker out there. To hit that shot at that moment?

Lynch: Pick among the following: Sunday in a major, tough course, difficult scoring conditions, poor play, lack of nerve, bad course management. He looked very solid early in back nine before getting wobbly, but this doesn't rank with his collapse at Lytham (Phil won today, last year Ernie had it handed to him). I'm just sad he denied Steve Williams a chance to win his 15th major title and pass Tiger.

Reiterman: Putting, putting and putting.

Van Sickle: Adam didn't get it done on the greens. That's not a new issue for him. He'll be back.

Bamberger: I don't think the wheels came off. He just was off enough to make bogeys. Links golf in the wind and cooling air. It's not like you're playing on PlayStation.

6. We saw some unusual names atop the leaderboard. Who intrigues you the most, M.A. Jimenez, Rafeal Cabrera-Bello, or Hideki Hatsuyama? Someone else?

Bamberger: Hideki, because I knew nothing about him. He looks like a fabulous player.

Passov: M.A. Jimenez is not only the most intriguing name on the leaderboard, coming off a broken leg at age 49, but he is also the most interesting man in the world, or at least in golf. That said, I'm most intrigued by Matsuyama. To come back with a 70 after that devastating one-shot penalty is impressive, as was his Top 10 at the U.S. Open. He's leaving way overrated Ryo Ishikawa in his rear-view mirror.

Lynch: It's not so much a question of individuals but the collective sum: the diversity of the leaderboard was a terrific tribute to the nature of links golf. There were bombers like Mickelson and Scott, bunters like Zach Johnson and Francesco Molinari, guys who live on their putters (Poulter), and guys who can't sniff a leaderboard off a links course (Darren Clarke). We don't see that much anymore.

Morfit: I like Hideki. The kid has a lot of game and hung around despite his slow-play penalty. I think he'll be around a while. He's young.

Reiterman: Matsuyama was impressive, especially after that slow-play penalty on Saturday he comes back on Sunday and ties for sixth.

Godich: How can you not pull for Jimenez? He's truly one of the good guys in golf.

Van Sickle: I find it intriguing how Lee Westwood can keep getting himself into contention and not finding a way to finish it off on Sunday. You think he'd win one of these by accidentally putting up a low round, like Mickelson did, at the end. But it hasn't happened.

Ritter: Can I take Henrik Stenson? Just feel like he's in the midst of a career rebirth.

7. The PGA Championship starts in less than three weeks. Who is your early favorite at the year's final major?

Lynch: Not Tiger.

Passov: How can it not be Phil?

Morfit: Phil.

Van Sickle: Oak Hill is a big, sprawling brute of a course. Phil fits the bill as the early favorite. Especially given that most of this year's other winners haven't sustained their levels of play.

Godich: Hunter Mahan has knocked on the door at the last two majors. He'll excel on a layout that puts on a premium on getting the ball in the fairway off the tee -- with a driver.

Reiterman: Tiger will always be the favorite.

Bamberger: Shaun Micheel. Shaun Micheel or Ben Curtis.

Ritter: It's the Summer of Phil. Why pick against him now?

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