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Mickelson’s close-to-perfect round wasn’t good enough

Phil Mickelson counts 42 victories on the PGA Tour. He has won five major championships. He has finished second 11 times and in the top five 27 times over 96 career majors. Years from now, Mickelson could look back to the 2016 Open Championship for his very best performance – and second place.

Mickelson was near perfect Sunday en route to a bogey-free 65 at Royal Troon Golf Club in Scotland. He finished 17 under par for the tournament, marking his lowest four-day score in a major. He didn’t take unnecessary risks and made no regrettable decisions but still lost by three strokes after Henrik Stenson shot 63.

The final round made for an epic battle in golf history. It was up there with Tom Watson shooting 65 and Jack Nicklaus 66 on Sunday, the margin in the final round of the 1977 British Open also deciding the tournament between the two heavyweights.

Mickelson had a history of throwing away major titles, but this time he couldn’t have played much better than he did Sunday at age 46.

“I played what I feel was well enough to win this tournament by a number of strokes, and yet I got beat by three strokes,” Mickelson told the media at Troon. “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 got beat.”

In truth, Mickelson scored well enough to win all but three majors in his career before finishing second yet again. All he could do was tip his cap to Stenson, who made 10 birdies during the final round. Mickelson has been a runner-up in a major championship in four consecutive years, an accomplishment.

Mickelson’s score in relationship to par would have won every British Open he entered but this one, 22 in all. He would have won each of his 26 career U.S. Opens, 23 Masters titles (losing to Tiger Woods in 1997) and 22 PGA Championships (finishing third behind Woods and Bob May before their dramatic playoff in 2000).

Stenson and Mickelson weren’t part of a field that destroyed an easy course. Troon offers some of the great challenges in golf, especially with Scotland’s erratic weather conditions. The course held up against everyone but them. The 11-shot difference between second and third was the widest for any major.

Seventeen players finished under par for the tournament. Only two were better than minus 6. Thirty-six players made the cut and finished 6 over par or worse, and four players were 17 over par or worse.

Years from now, Stenson will be remembered for shooting one of the best Sunday rounds in major history, matching Johnny Miller’s 63 at Oakmont and becoming the first Swede to win a grand slam event. Here’s hoping history remembers Mickelson at his best, too, even though it wasn’t good enough to win.

Johnny on the spot

San Francisco has won three World Series titles in the last six years without having a 20-game winner on its pitching staff. The Giants could have two this season in Johnny Cueto (13-2) and Madison Bumgarner (10-5), but it hardly guarantees a championship.

Boston is the only team since 2001 to win the Series with a 20-game winner. The Red Sox did it twice, with Josh Beckett going 20-7 in 2007 and Curt Schilling finishing 21-6 in 2004. Arizona won the 2001 Series with two 20-game winners in Schilling (22-6) and Randy Johnson (21-6).

Keep an eye on Cueto, who could become the first big-league pitcher to win 25 games since Bob Welch was 27-6 with Oakland in 1990. The Giants haven’t had a 20-game winner since 1993, when John Burkett was 22-7 and Bill Swift was 21-8. That year, San Francisco finished second in the NL West.

It pays to be a Plumlee

Here’s some advice for parents who hope their children play professional sports today: Raise 7-foot Plumlees.

Miles Plumlee averaged 5.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while starting 14 contests last season for the Bucks, his third team in four years. It was enough for a four-year, $52 million contract extension. He’s making $13 million per year after averaging less than 18 minutes per game in his career.

Mason Plumlee should expect more money after averaging 9.1 points and 7.7 rebounds while starting all 82 games for Portland last season. He’ll be making $3.37 million this season, the last in his rookie deal before he becomes a restricted free agent. He could pocket $15 million per season when his contract expires.

Marshall Plumlee recently signed a three-year deal with the Knicks after averaging 8.3 points and 8.6 rebounds last season for Duke. His salary was undisclosed, but the NBA minimum this season is $543,471. He was an undrafted free agent who signed with the Knicks after scoring 21 points in four games in the Summer League.

All three brothers graduated from Duke, one of the top universities in the country, free of charge. Cost of attendance for one student in 2016-17, including room and board and other expenses, according to collegedata.com: $67,399.

Quotable

Rob Gronkowski on Monday, via Twitter, after joining Paul McCartney on stage at Fenway Park and playing the air guitar alongside the iconic ex-Beatle: “Did this really happen last night?”

Stats Inc.

58 – The Twins’ projected win total this year, which would mark their worst season since moving to Minnesota in 1961, before they fired GM Terry Ryan.

.289 – The Red Sox batting average, the highest of any team since the 2007 Yankees batted .290.

19 – NBA players who were scheduled to make $20 million or more this season. Only nine made that much last season.

Quick hits

• Really, how many people were alarmed after a report released Monday revealed a vast majority of Russian athletes competing in the summer and winter Olympics used performance-enhancing drugs?

The real shock was that it took years for anti-doping authorities to figure out Russia was cheating. I mean, it’s Russia.

• Zemgus Girgensons may want a long-term deal with the Sabres after refusing to accept $874,125 as an unrestricted free agent, but he has very little leverage. The more talent Buffalo adds up front, the less they value Girgensons. He’s a third-line player on a playoff contender, a fourth-line player on a Stanley Cup contender.

• If you insist, I’ll end the suspense and give you my prediction: The winner of the 2016 Olympic gold medal in rugby will be … New Zealand. The United States has held gold in rugby since 1924, the last year it was an Olympic sport. Thanks mostly to the All Blacks, it has become a national sport among Kiwis.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com

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