TROON, Scotland — Tiger Woods isn’t the only player chasing Jack Nicklaus in the majors.
So is Phil Mickelson.
Only one of them has been making progress over the last four years. That isn’t necessarily good news for Mickelson, but it should be.
Mickelson did everything right in the British Open, only to watch Henrik Stenson do just a little better.
They combined to deliver the greatest closing rounds by a final pairing in major championship history — 63 for Stenson, 65 for Mickelson, on a day when the average score was 72.8. They had a better-ball score of 59. They walked off the 18th green at Royal Troon with their arms around each other’s shoulders, and given the intensity of the battle, they might have been keeping each other from collapsing.
Stenson, the champion golfer of the year, received the silver claret jug.
Mickelson not only received a silver platter, he took over sole possession of second place on golf’s all-time list of runner-up finishes in the majors.
He’s No. 2 at being No. 2
The runner-up finish at Royal Troon was the 11th for Mickelson, one more than Arnold Palmer and still eight to go to catch Nicklaus.
No one talks much about that record because Nicklaus is identified more with his 18 majors. Woods reached 14 majors in 2008 and was ahead of the pace set by Nicklaus until a fourth knee surgery, three back surgeries and one fire hydrant got in the way.
Eight years later, Woods remains at 14 and hasn’t played in nearly a year.
Mickelson, who won his fifth major in the British Open at Muirfield three years ago, now has recorded a runner-up finish each of the last four years. Not even Nicklaus put together a streak of four straight years with the silver.
This is not meant to cheer up Mickelson.
He is 46, in his 25th year as a pro. He has been around long enough that losing stings, and it doesn’t always matter if it’s self-inflicted. Is it easier to stomach knowing he played bogey-free than if he couldn’t hit a par 3 with a pitching wedge?
It was the second time that Mickelson posted the lowest score in any major, only for someone else to go lower. That was David Toms at Atlanta Athletic Club, who holed a 10-foot par putt on the final hole to beat Mickelson by one. And it was Stenson at Royal Troon, making 10 birdies in a round of 63 that even Johnny Miller admired.
“I’m not sure how I’m going to feel about that,” Mickelson said. “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.
“I put in my best performance today. Played close to flawless golf and was beat,” he said. “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?’”