Mickelson's big breakthrough

Phil Mickelson and his team: back row: manager Steve Loy, wife Amy, coach Butch Harmon, Mickelson, caddy Jim Mackay. Front row: Sophia, Evan and Amanda. David Cannon/Getty Images

GULLANE, Scotland -- Phil Mickelson wouldn't get out of bed.

It was the Tuesday after he'd blown the U.S. Open at Merion, and it had his wife a little worried. "Usually, he's good for a little mope and then he'll come out of it," Amy Mickelson remembers. "But this time, he hardly got out of bed for two days. He was a shell. It was the worst disappointment for him of any tournament, by far."

A sixth second-place finish at the Open will do that to a man.

Finally, on Wednesday, she dragged him out of bed for a preplanned family trip to Montana: fly fishing, rafting, zip lining. Whatever happened in Montana put some zip back in Mickelson.

Next thing you knew, Mickelson was raging through Scotland like the Romans. His driver's license said 43 but his game said 33. He won the Scottish Open last week, then woke up Sunday at the Open Championship in Muirfield 5 shots back and feeling oddly joyous.

"I told him before the round, I thought even par or 1-over would win it," his coach, Butch Harmon, said. "But he said, 'I'm going lower than that."

In arguably his finest moment in striped pants, Mickelson passed nine guys, including Tiger Woods, with an unforgettable 66 to win. Suddenly he was hugging the Claret Jug in a giant family scrum on the 18th green. "That's your name," the kids kept saying, staring at the fresh engraving. "That's YOUR name!"

Phil was as Mickelstunned as anybody. Of all the majors he shouldn't win, this was No. 1. A guy who wants to hit flop shots off a sidewalk? Winning a links tournament? Preposterous.

It was so out of the blue that Mickelson and his caddy, Jim "Bones" Mackay, had to stand there by the scoring trailer for 47 minutes -- from their last putt dropping to the moment Lee Westwood pulled yet another disappointment out of the hole -- to get their goodies: Mickelson his trophy and Bones his 18th hole flag. And in between, you couldn't help but notice the look on Woods' face as he trudged by them into the trailer to sign yet another losing major scorecard. Talk about a buzz kill day. You think you're going to kick-start your sagging career, and instead, your chief rival kick-starts his.

Majors since 2008? Phil 2, Tiger 0.

"The guy is playing the best golf of his life," said a tearful Bones, who's looped Phil for 21 years. "I don't care how old you say he is, this is the best he's ever played."

But how can he be? At 43?

"Why shouldn't I?" Mickelson says. "I'm in better shape than I've ever been. I'm more flexible. My diet is better. … Why can't I?"

He can, I guess, especially when you consider that he now has a huge, world-class practice facility in his San Diego backyard that he designed and built himself. It features six greens made of every type of grass in the world he putts on, bunkers of every stripe, and a grounds crew of six that jumps at his slightest whim. Before Merion, for instance, he asked them to take the greens up to Merion speed, which was just slightly faster than the hood of a 1989 Chrysler.

"That practice facility has made a world of difference," says Harmon. Says Amy, "Now he can practice at home a lot more. Even if he only has a spare 15 or 20 minutes, he can go out there in his flip flops and hit shots."

There's more:

1. "I'm putting better than I ever have in my life," he says.

And 2. He's found a 3-wood, made by Callaway, that's flying longer and straighter than many commercial flights. "Not since I found the Ping L-wedge, when I was 14, has one club altered my career like this [Callaway] 3-wood. I just hit bullets with it."

But mostly, it's his Silly Putty resiliency. Nothing seems to quench his thirst. Not the $44 million a year he makes in endorsements, not his arthritis, and not Merion.

"Being so down after the U.S. Open," Mickelson said afterward, his hand never leaving the trophy, "to come back and use that as motivation, to use it as a springboard … that feels amazing."

That's not just talk. "He's as motivated right now as he was when I met him in college," says Amy.

Says Bones, "I kid him. I say, 'You'll be the 60-year-old guy on the putting green at Augusta, telling people he thinks he's got a chance.'"

So how long can Phil 2.0 last? And how great can he get?

Well, for Lefty, there's only one wrong to right: the U.S. Open. If he could finally knock one down, it would make him the sixth player to win all four majors, along with Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods. It's his measure of the all-time greats. But his table has only three legs. "That last leg has been a hard one for me," Mickelson said in the understatement of the year. He won't quit on it until three days after they bury him. If that.

"He used to tell me he'd retire at 40," Amy said, bathed in the last of the Scottish light. "Now, I don't think he has any idea. He just lives for today. He waits to see where life takes him. I'm just looking forward to the ride."

If it's anything like Muirfield, so should we all.