AKRON, Ohio — Phil Mickelson has no doubt what will be most remembered from his career.
“It will always be the ‘04 Masters and showing off my Olympic jumping ability,” he cracked of his celebratory hop, which will never be mistaken for Michael Jordan leaving the launch pad.
But there’s also no question in his mind of what he thinks is his most significant victory.
“For me, personally, (winning) the British Open is the greatest accomplishment I could ever get in my career,” he said Tuesday, nine days after capturing the claret jug at Muirfield with a stirring final-round flourish.
After a week off, preparing on Monday for next week’s PGA Championship and now trying to focus on this week’s Bridgestone Invitational, Mickelson remains stunned that he actually won an event he thought would always be out of his grasp.
He still isn’t convinced he actually did it.
“I’m looking forward to in the coming years looking back and remembering Muirfield, remembering the ‘13 Open and remembering all the things that happened on that back nine,” he said during preparations for the Bridgestone Invitational, which begins Thursday.
Mickelson always felt an affinity for Augusta National and the Masters, where he won in 2004, ‘06 and ‘10. He erased all the speculation of whether he would ever win a major in 2004, when he rolled in the clinching birdie putt on the 18th and “leaped,” his spikes barely leaving the ground.
“I always knew that I was going to win the Masters because I had played well there for so many years,” he said.
He also believed he could win a PGA Championship, which he crossed off his list in 2005 at Baltusrol.
Sure, there was the lingering heartache of continually being a bridesmaid at the U.S. Open — a record six times. But at least he was a threat to win it many years.
He thought he did this year at Merion. But he was wrong, as were all of those who thought he was a lock to win American’s national championship at some point long before this.
“I had something happen to me Sunday morning of the U.S. Open that was really weird,” he said in an almost conspiratorial tone. “When I woke up, I had dreamt that I had already won the U.S. Open.”
He felt euphoria. He felt himself lifting the trophy, the gallery roaring for a long awaited and much anticipated triumph.
“It took me over a minute to realize that I haven’t played the final round and that I’ve still got to go out and do it,” he said. “And I still have not won it.”
The British Open, however, was never his cup of Earl Grey. He floundered in the wind and sideways rain, struggled in the heather and high weeds, fell apart while others made late charges. He was seldom even near the leaderboard.
But that all changed at Muirfield. He’s still pinching himself.
“It was so difficult for me to play my best golf in the British Open under those conditions than any other tournament,” he said. “To win that is the greatest accomplishment for me in my career.”
Now he’s trying to focus on what’s next, instead of what just happened. That’s not easy, but he shows signs of coming out of his post-Muirfield celebration, just in time for the final major of the year, the PGA at Oak Hill.
“There’s an opportunity to add to this year and make it every bit as special as it can be,” he said, looking ahead. “I want to make sure I give myself every chance to play well because I’ve been playing some of my best golf the last few months.”
He’s primed to continue it.
His close friend and Ryder Cup partner, Keegan Bradley, was joking around with Mickelson a couple of days ago. Bradley is the defending champion of the Bridgestone, and teased Mickelson about the lofty title placed on every British Open champion.
“We were double-checking that we were going to play (a practice round at the Bridgestone) on Tuesday, and I said, `I know you’re the Champion Golfer of the Year, but I’ll teach you how to play Akron if you want.’ He only responded with, `I won there when you were 9 years old.”’
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