Golfing nirvana is an incredibly hard, if impossible, thing to find. Few players in the history of the sport have been in complete control of their games, and even fewer have dared tempt fate by admitting so.
In the media centre at Muirfield, though, Phil Mickelson exuded an unprecedented aura of calm, confidence, determination and self-belief that suggested to me he’s the man to beat this week.
Mickleson is a man with a naturally positive disposition and an unflappable belief is his own ability, but some of his comments at Muirfield gave additional cause for optimism.
Firstly, the declaration that his putting is as good as it’s ever been. In his own words, the stroke he’s found over the past couple of months marks the culmination of a four-year journey. Such a bold statement from someone who’s renowned as a good putter emphasises just how good he’s feeling heading into the Open.
The left-hander also spoke of his comfort at Muirfield, most notably off the tee. He was glowing in praise for the way the course was set up and felt the fairways were more than fair, in terms of width and the rough flanking them.
“Because of the way the holes move, it’s very comfortable for me off some of the tees, getting the ball in play. I also like it a lot around the greens,” he said.
If Mickelson is finding most of the fairways, as he did at Merion, and putting as well as he professes to be doing, he’ll be a tough man to beat. The 43-year-old has also left driver out of the bag and replaced it with a 64-degree wedge, which he believes will save some additional shots around the greens.
Everything seems to be in his favour: he feels at home in Scotland and has his family here this week; he’s well versed, well practiced and reacquainted with links golf’s nuances and idiosyncrasies after winning the Scottish Open; he’s supremely confident; his putting is as good as it’s ever been; he feels comfortable off Muirfield’s tees and he loves the golf course.
You do feel this week represents Mickelson’s best chance to win the Open. You also feel he senses that himself. He’ll still be reeling from his US Open heartbreak and that’ll provide yet more inspiration and motivation.
Obviously, winning the week before a major and following it up is an extremely difficult task, but Mickelson knows all about that.
Intriguingly, he’s the last player to have achieved such a feat.