Disappointed Mickelson still “happy” for Stenson

Vaught’s note: I thought you might enjoy what Phil Mickelson had to say after shooting a 6-under par 65 in Sunday’s final round of The Open Championship in Troon, Scotland, and still finishing three shots behind Henrick Stenson, who shot a 65.

Troon, South Ayrshire, Scotland

MIKE WOODCOCK: Very pleased to welcome Phil Mickelson, the runner-up in the 145th Open to the interview room.

Phil, you played tremendously well all week and you had a great battle today with Henrik Stenson. Can you share your thoughts on what was a tremendous display of golf.

PHIL MICKELSON: It was, gosh, it’s disappointing to come in second, but I’m happy for Henrik. He’s really a great champion. We’ve been friends for some time. I’ve always thought that he is one of the best ball-strikers in the game and that major championships are perfectly suited for him. I knew that he would ultimately come through and win. I’m happy that he did. I’m disappointed that it was at my expense.

Q. Aside from pure matchplay events, where does that rank in terms of a one-on-one duel that you’ve been involved in in your career?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don’t remember being in a match like that where we’ve separated ourselves from the field by so many strokes. I don’t think that’s happened that I can remember.

Q. But the battle between you two and the tension and all of that?
PHIL MICKELSON: What about it? What do you mean?

Q. Can you make any comparisons to other situations?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, I don’t have any that I think are similar.

Q. Is this the best you’ve ever played and didn’t win?
PHIL MICKELSON: Probably, yeah, I think so. It’s probably the best I’ve played and not won. I think that’s probably why it’s disappointing in that I don’t have a point where I can look back and say, I should have done that or had I only done this. I played a bogey-free round of 65 on the final round of a major, usually that’s good enough to do it, and I got beat. I got beat by 10 birdies. It’s not like other guys were out there doing the same thing. It was a challenging day.

Q. First of all, thanks very much for coming in front of us. I’m sure you’d prefer to be anywhere but in front of the media. There’s been a few guys alluding to the “Duel in the Sun”, and I know the sun was probably missing most of the day. But did it feel that magnitude, a head-to-head battle with Henrik?
PHIL MICKELSON: When we got it going on the front nine, after the first probably six holes, it was pretty obvious that it was just us. I always thought there were a couple guys right behind us that could make a move, and if they got off to a hot start and we were struggling a little bit, it was going to be more than just two people duelling it out. But after six holes, it was pretty obvious it was going to be just us.

It was fun to be part of that challenge. It’s just disappointing for me to finish second, but we’ve got a great champ. Henrik’s a really great champion. I’m happy for him.

Q. Also, you had a bit of a laugh with Henrik on one of the early holes, which is quite unusual in international sport. Can you share with us what that was?
PHIL MICKELSON: What did we — I don’t remember what we were laughing about. But Henrik’s got a great sense of humor and he’s a good prankster. He’s pulled some good practical jokes and we’ve had some good laughs over the years. So I’m sure it was in reference to something like that. But we’ve had a good time together.

Q. I know it’s going to sting for a while because of what you said, playing almost a perfect round of golf. But after a few days or so, will you be able to take a lot of satisfaction in where your game is, given how disappointed you were at Oakmont?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yes, yes. I’m very excited with the work that I’ve put in with how Andrew Getson has helped me with my golf swing. The way I was able to hit fairways with ease coming down the stretch and hit my iron shots right on line, draws and fades and so forth, and basically that comes from getting my swing back on plane. It’s been a little work in progress to get it on plain, and then capture the field and the face awareness throughout the golf swing. But three out of four days this week was pretty stress-free golf. The one way day that it was off, it came back the next day and it was back on.

So it tells me that we’ve done good work. I’m excited where my game is at and where it’s headed. But disappointed that it wasn’t enough today.

Q. Did you have a number in mind today to get it done? And if so, what was it? If you were told this morning over breakfast you’d shoot 65, would you be assuming you’d have the Jug again?
PHIL MICKELSON: Of course, yeah. I was hopeful that I could shoot something in the mid 60s, I didn’t know if it was possible because there weren’t really a lot of low scores. Granted the weather kind of calmed down there for the back nine. It was a little difficult, I thought starting out, but the back nine had really calmed down right as we made the turn, and we were able to make some birdies coming in.

But I would have for sure thought that. I actually thought anything in the 60s was going to be a good round today.

Q. Just wondering, Phil, what your thoughts were as he kept pouring in putts, and if that at all forced you to change your strategy or anything you had to do except make more putts?
PHIL MICKELSON: I really didn’t do much different. I was just trying to birdie every hole and it seemed like he was. I was just trying to keep pace. I thought that the birdie on 14, when he made birdie on 14, that stung. But the one on 15 was — and then I really thought I made eagle on 16. I thought I’d get one back there and be only one down with two difficult holes to go, and I don’t know how that eagle putt missed. I really thought that was going to go in. But seems there have been a couple of putts like that this week. I’ve made a bunch, too, but it seems a couple of critical ones caught the lip.

Q. You’ve been around the game a long time. Golfers tend to become fatalists where you can’t play defense. When the guy is just knocking in putts like that, what are you thinking?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, I mean, you’ve just got to follow suit. I was thinking I needed to knock mine in on top of him. I had about a 40, 45-footer on 15 and I’m thinking I’ve got to make that. I had to make 30, 40-footers just to try to keep pace with him, and wasn’t able to do it there in the end.

Q. Phil, you’ve had a couple of tough ones in majors over your career, but is this one going to be a little bit easier because of how well you played and because you really can’t second-guess much what happened this week? For perhaps, Merion, Winged Foot, whatever, those ones were tough, maybe not this one as much?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, I’m not sure how I’m going to feel about that. I’m proud of the way I played. I don’t look back on anything and say, I should have done this differently or that. I played what I feel was well enough to win this championship by a number of strokes and yet I got beat by three strokes. You know, it’s not like I have decades left of opportunities to win majors, so each one means a lot to me. And I put in my best performance today. Played close to flawless golf and was beat.

So it kind of goes both ways. I’m happy with the way I played, but even more disappointed that it wasn’t enough because you look back and say, what do I need to do?

Q. First of all, congratulations on a fantastic performance. But do you now finally know how Jack Nicklaus felt in ’77?
PHIL MICKELSON: It certainly crossed my mind a little bit out there today that that match when Jack and Tom went head to head there in ’77. I certainly was thinking about that. I know that I wanted to be more of Tom in that case than Jack, but unfortunately — I understand how it feels. It’s bittersweet, I guess.

Q. You have another major start in eight days. In this case, is that a good thing?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think so. I mean, I think so. It doesn’t give me a chance to take time off, per se. It forces me to keep my game sharp. I’m going to head to New York early. I’ll be there on Wednesday, actually, in a couple of days. I’ve got that — I’m excited about our Teachers Academy that I’ve partnered with ExxonMobil to do. I’ll be there in Jersey City for that. It will give me a chance to go to Baltusrol for a few days prior and get ready this coming week as opposed to waiting until next week.

I’ve got a lot of special memories going back to Baltusrol in ’05, and probably we don’t have a month to wait between majors is a good thing for me. I’ll try to look at the positives and take that into Baltusrol and keep my game sharp over the next week or two as opposed to going home and taking some time off.

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