Phil Mickelson heads to The Open in the best form possible after ending a 20-year European winless drought with a playoff victory at the Scottish Open on Sunday.
Mickelson, the highest ranked player in the field, captured his 50th professional career success after defeating South Africa’s Branden Grace with a birdie at the first extra hole.
Both players had ended regulation play tied at 17-under with Grace posting a 69 and finding his way into the playoff when Mickelson horribly three-putted the last hole for bogey in a round of 68.
However, Mickelson then played one of his trademark wedge shots, landing his 45-yard third shot a few feet past the hole before the ball spun back to some six inches from the cup for the easiest of birdies, while Grace missed his birdie putt from 25 feet.
Mickelson had lost the event in a playoff six years ago at Loch Lomond, but has finally captured the event in his ninth Scottish Open appearance.
“I’ve been coming to Scotland now for quite some time and I’ve enjoyed my stay every year. I’ve had some opportunities before and I almost let it slide away today,” Mickelson said. “So to come out on top feels terrific, and this Castle Stuart golf course is just wonderful and I’ve had so much fun here the last three years, so to win means a lot to me. I was so mad at myself for losing my focus and three-putting the last hole in regulation play, so I went back to the 18th hole for the playoff pretty focused to make a four.”
Mickelson, who collected a first prize check for US$742,800, will be a favorite at the 142nd Open Championship starting on Thursday at Muirfield to the east of Edinburgh.
The American was third in the 2004 Open at Royal Troon and joint runner-up two years ago at Royal St George’s.
“This week has been very valuable for next week as I did a lot of things well and also there are a few things I still need to work on, but then today was a great day for us to have this type of windy weather, as the first three days were very benign and it didn’t have the teeth this golf course can have on a day like today,” he said. “So I am anticipating this kind of weather next week at Muirfield and if we [do] have it [then] today was very important for me getting ready.”
Mickelson’s only victory in Europe prior to the Scottish Open was in 1993 when he captured a secondary Challenge Tour event near Euro Disney in Paris.
“Mickelson is a great player and he’s not going to mess it up on the last,” Grace said. “I’m still pleased, played well, put myself in contention and it’s a good week heading into next week. I was playing maybe for third or something and it just shows how quickly things can change out there.”
Danish rookie J.B. Hansen and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson both shot 71s to share third place on 15-under.
Hansen dropped four shots with a quadruple-bogey at the second and then raced into a share of the lead with seven birdies over his next eight holes.