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What We Learned: Mickelson wins first claret jug

Phil Mickelson
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Each week, offers thoughts on 'what we learned' from the world of golf. In this edition, our writers weigh in on our favorite Lefty finally breaking through to win his first claret jug.

Two and a half weeks ago, in his first public appearance after yet another U.S. Open heartbreaker, Phil Mickelson told me, “I’m playing better than I have in a long time. In years.” I believed him, too … until a few days later, when he missed the cut at The Greenbrier Classic and still insisted he was playing great golf. Hey, sometimes you have to parse through the rhetoric  and an elite player maintaining he’s playing great after MCing at a mid-tier event reeks of rhetoric. Now? He’s proven his point. Lefty went on a summer vacation to Scotland and will return home with a couple of cool souvenirs. In his Sunday afternoon news conference after winning the Open Championship, he never once took his hand off the claret jug, as if he thought it might float away if he did. The most improbable victory of Mickelson’s career is – he says – the most fulfilling, as well. That’s not rhetoric, either. Once again, the man speaks the truth. – Jason Sobel

Never count out the old guys. I was on the “Grey Goose 19th Hole” the week after the U.S. Open and said I thought Phil Mickelson only had two or three more legitimate chances to win the U.S. Open because he’s 43. I didn’t think it was possible for someone much older than 45 to win majors. Sure, I’ve seen men that old contend, but winning is different. Well, Mickelson isn't like anyone else. He’s in arguably the best shape of his life, he’s playing as well as he ever has and his confidence is through the roof. Winning a fifth major puts Lefty in select company and makes him one of the 15 best players ever to play this game, and gives him a seat just outside the top 10. He has plenty more chances to win his beloved U.S. Open and collect the career Grand Slam. In fact, I'd be surprised if he doesn't. Pinehurst in 2014 perhaps? Anyone think he can’t? – Jay Coffin

Nobody comes up with more clever angles than Phil Mickelson.

Whether it's no drivers in the bag, or two drivers, or five wedges, or a specially crafted 3-wood, Mickelson always has an angle, a different way of seeing and attacking.

That's what stood out about Sunday's victory at Muirfield, because Mickelson could never really see the angles in links golf, could never fully understand how the game is played along the ground over there across the ocean. The humps, hollows, knobs and swales were as confounding to him as the winds in British Open golf. He was always more focused, more confident, finding his angles through the air. In links golf, he was doomed with those aerial angles, but he showed us winning the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart last week and at Muirfield this week that an old dog can do more than learn new tricks. He can master them. Mickelson's victory says so much again about his resolve. He bounced back from the heartbreak of another second-place finish at the U.S. Open last month to win a major that has made him look so ordinary over the years. Though his 'clever' angles have sometimes cost him in the past, his ability to find the winning angle at Muirfield made him extraordinary on Sunday. – Randall Mell

There was a time, not too long ago, when Phil Mickelson was considered done. Finished. Kaput. He revealed that he had psoriatic arthritis, and within two years he had slipped all the way to 22nd in the world rankings.

How does he respond? With arguably his finest year since 2005, maybe ever. At age 43, he has two victories (including major No. 5), two runners-up and a pair of third-place finishes this season scattered among six top 10s. His nearly $4.9 million in earnings is his most since 2009, and yet to be played are a WGC, a major and four big-money playoff events.

Now, he’s slightly ahead of Tiger Woods in the Player of the Year race, his stirring British Open triumph Sunday giving him the edge despite trailing in the 2013 wins column, 4-2. Not bad production for a supposedly past-his-prime arthritic golfer. – Ryan Lavner

That no player has transformed themselves more than Phil Mickelson over the last half decade. Since turning 40 in 2010 Lefty has added five titles to his resume, including two majors (2010 Masters, 2013 Open Championship). All this came after Mickelson revealed he had been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disease that affects about one in 100 people, and, some said, passed his competitive prime. – Rex Hoggard