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One For The Ages

Were the 2013 Open Championship a production of Macbeth, its august cast of players would include Olivier, Burton, Gielgud, Tracy, De Niro, Pacino and Day-Lewis.

Heading into Sunday’s final round former world #1 Lee Westwood had a 2 shot lead. Westwood was seeking his first major championship in his 62nd attempt, after recording 7 second or third place finishes up until now.

Looming 2 shots back was 14-time major champion and current world #1, Tiger Woods, who is looking for his first major championship since 2008. Woods has never won a major in which he was not either leading or tied for the lead heading into the final round.

Up and coming US star, Hunter Mayhan, who was one of only two players who really bested the brutal links conditions in Saturday’s 3rd round, by shooting a 3-under par 68, once again made himself a pivotal actor on the biggest stage. Mayhan could very easily have won the US open this year at Merion before a late in the round stumble.

2013 Masters champion and last year’s tragic loser of the Open, Adam Scott, was 3 shots back at even par for the tournament. When Scott squandered a 4 shot lead with four holes to play last year, that may have been the ruin of a lesser player, but not for so the resilient 32 year old who has more than proved his mettle in 2013. 

Swedish star, Henrik Stenson, who has toiled in golf’s hinterland for the last few years before recapturing his form in 2013, was at 1-over par.

American icon, Phil Mickelson, the winner of last week’s Scottish Open who has finally embraced “links” golf in the latter part of his career, was a further shot back at 2-over par.  

It would seem that Old Tom Morris’ masterpiece that is Muirfield does indeed always allow the cream to rise to the top. It is no coincidence that the last 8 players that have won the Open Championship in Gullane bordering the Firth of Forth, are all now in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

After the first nine holes of Sunday’s final round, the cast of leading characters had thinned. Playing with Woods, Scott was the day’s hottest player and after his 11th hole, he had made 4 birdies in his last 5 holes to hold the lead at 2-under par. Woods who had gone in the opposite direction and was heading for another disappointing Sunday finish in a major, stood at 4-over for his round, and for all intents and purposes out of the Championship.

Westwood was 1 shot back at 1-under and 2-over par on his day, but still holding tough despite not hitting his first fairway until his tee shot on the 11th tee.

Mickelson made back to back birdies on the 13th and 14th holes to stand only 1 back of Scott at 1-under par for the Championship. Great par saving putts on his next two holes would leave Lefty tied with Scott and Westwood after Scott made a bogey on his 12th hole.

“Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble”. Muirfield’s closing stretch of holes are perhaps the hardest in all of golf and can defy the best of shots hit by the finest player.

Scott would make two more bogeys as he and the other contenders began slipping away.

Mickelson then hit two superb 3 woods onto the par-5 17th hole, giving him an eagle putt from 30 feet. Two putts later, Mickelson had a 2 shot lead. After finding the fairway with his drive on the 18th hole, Mickelson fashioned another superb approach shot 14 feet above the hole. Just for good measure Mickelson made his birdie putt to cap one of the most purely played final rounds in Major Championship history. His 66 at Muirfield on this day will be placed into the archives of the games’ best as befits one of its greatest players.

Stenson played well to finish in 2nd place with a closing round 70, 1 shot ahead of Scott, Westwood and a fast finishing Ian Poulter who fired a brilliant 67 to share 3rd place.      

The Open is the 43 year old Mickelson’s 5th major, and the Claret Jug will join his three Masters jackets and Wanamaker Trophy (for winning the PGA Championship) in a collection that now is really missing only one thing. The man with 6 Runner-up finishes in the US Open will try to complete that collection next year at Pinehurst, but in the meantime, he should savor every moment of this; a win for the ages.

Of all the storied history of Muirfield, their 16th Open Championship may well be remembered as their most glorious.