Phil Mickelson dominated Muirfield's toughest stretch to win The British Open

USA TODAY Sports

Lefty claimed his first British Open title by being his best when it mattered the most.

For a player who had a reputation of struggling on Sundays, Phil Mickelson sure didn't show it during the final round at Muirfield. Not only did he turn in the round of the tournament by shooting a 5-under 66 on his way to claiming the Claret Jug, but Mickelson was as good as it gets during the crucial moments.

Mickelson was in position to win the U.S. Open a month ago at Merion, but he couldn't close. He was far from sharp, even with his wedges, and bogeyed three of the final six holes to lose by two strokes. When he hit the closing stretch on Sunday, it was a different story.

The final stretch at Muirfield was a challenge all week with six of the eight hardest holes on the course part of the loop from No. 13 to No. 18. Mickelson struggled on those holes during the first three rounds, combining to play that stretch at 4-over. He stepped on the tee at the 13th 1-over on the tournament, still on the fringe of contention. Instead of fading like he did at Merion, Mickelson took control of the tournament for himself and made the rest of the field irrelevant.

A beautiful tee shot on No. 13 set up an easy birdie try to get him back to even par for the first time since the 16th hole on Friday. Mickelson's putting was about as good as it gets down the stretch, including at No. 14 where he rolled in a 30-foot putt for his second straight birdie. All of a sudden Mickelson went from a likely top 10 finish to one stroke off the lead.

His four birdies on the final six holes vaulted him into the lead, but his par saves on No. 15 and No. 16 were just as important. He bogeyed both holes on Saturday and had a couple of testy par putts in the final round. It wouldn't have surprised many if he lipped a par-saver out like he did at Merion, but not this time. Not this day. He buried both putts, setting up one of the signature finishes of his career.

Mickelson has had his fair share of memorable shots during his career, including in majors, and he added to that list at Muirfield. He chose to not carry a driver this week, instead opting for five wedges. He took 3-wood off the tee at the Par-5 17th hole, leading one ESPN commentator to question whether he could reach the green in two. He wen't back to the 3-wood and it provided one of the shots of his career.

After his round, Mickelson said the two 3-woods he hit on 17 were among the best he's ever hit. It showed as his approach shot from more than 300 yards away caught the slope perfectly, running onto the green. His eagle attempt came up short, seemingly the only putt he missed on the final stretch, but he tapped in for birdie to move into the lead at 2-under.

From there, the general thought was if he could make a par at No. 18, 2-under may be good enough to win and should at worst get him into the playoff. He took the guess work out of the equation. He saved his best shot of the tournament for last, erasing the memory of his poor approach shots at the U.S. Open. Mickelson's iron into the green landed in the perfect place, catching the slope and leaving another birdie attempt.

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He then finished off his spectacular round in style, rolling in another clutch putt to post 3-under and secure the victory.

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For six holes, when it mattered the most, Mickelson was nearly flawless. He was great off the tee, drilled his approach shots and looked like the best putter in the world. Mickelson has come up short time-after-time during his career, but on Sunday the Open Championship was there for the taking and he took it.

More golf from SB Nation:

Phil gets his first Open

Phil celebrates in style

Tiger curses his way through the British Open

GIFs: Rinaldi laugh is back | Snedeker goes around the world

Final round leaderboard updates and coverage from Muirfield

A guide to Muirfield | A links course defined

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