It was at the Masters in 2004 that Phil Mickelson shrugged off the millstone that is currently being lugged around the golf world by Lee Westwood and Luke Donald. That is, the best player never to have won a Major. On that occasion, it was a change of attitude from a gung-ho birdie machine to a more patient, mature performer, that helped him cross the line.
Since then, the Californian has captured two more Masters titles, a USPGA and now, incredibly, The Open. He stands on the very edge of greatness – just the US Open to go.
His triumph at Muirfield was the culmination of a career spent at the sharp end of competition. He knew only too well that this was a golf course with disaster waiting at every turn. Tip-toeing your way through to the back 9 on Sunday with your chances in tact was easier said than done.
Mickelson had the patience to do just that but with six holes to go, it was his naturally aggressive, positive attitude that separated him from the rest. Just as Adam Scott, Lee Westwood and the others were desperately trying, but failing, to avoid making bogeys, Mickelson was taking on the course. It was a brave move but revealed that this was not a man hoping to cling onto victory but one who was prepared to make it happen. Birdies on 17 and 18 followed and suddenly the 43 year-old was out of site. The Claret Jug was heading across the Pond.
In some ways, Phil Mickelson has always been the most likely of Open Champions. His imagination, creativity and shot-making flair are the perfect weapons to fight the wind and the hard ground to win on links courses. Over the years however, the American has had to learn the art of picking the right shot. Knowing which of his armoury of different flights and shapes to call upon in any given moment has taken two decades, he feared he would never truly master it.
So this was a triumph born of shot-making excellence, patience and, crucially, some of that classic old Mickelson aggression that has cost him in the past. At the key moment, as the others were trying not to lose it, Mickelson was still visualising the flight and shape that would help his ball finish as close as possible to the flag. In the end, his fearless final stretch was a classic sporting lesson in why positivity rules.