LONDON, July 14 (Reuters) - American Phil Mickelson overcame a surprising loss of focus on the 72nd hole and held his nerve to beat South Africa’s Branden Grace in a playoff and claim a confidence-boosting maiden win at the Scottish Open at Inverness on Sunday.
Mickelson, 43, had looked certain to claim victory without the need for extra holes as he strolled up the par-five 18th with a one-shot lead.
But the four-times major winner stunned a large and expectant crowd by three-putting from just off the green to hand Grace a reprieve.
Mickelson, however, immediately put the disappointment behind him to birdie the first extra hole following a sensational chip from the front of the green that rolled to within a couple of feet and required a simple tap in.
“I almost let it slide away today but to come out on top means a lot,” Mickelson told Sky Sports.
“I’ve been coming here for quite some time. I was so mad at myself for mentally losing my focus ... I came out on that 18th hole (playoff) and refocused.”
The win is a timely boost for Mickelson before the year’s third major championship, the British Open, which begins at Muirfield on Thursday.
Mickelson has tended to struggle on links courses this side of the Atlantic and when asked whether his preparation for this year’s British Open could have been any better, he replied: “No”.
The 18th hole stumble had mirrored the start of the day for Mickelson, who dropped three shots in the first three holes of his final round.
The American, however, steadied with a string of birdies as he carded a final round three-under par 69 to give him a 17-under total of 271.
Grace had produced an impressive back nine to put himself into contention at 17-under but he must have all but packed his gear away before Mickelson’s meltdown created an opportunity to snatch the trophy.
Overnight leader Henrik Stenson faded late in the day to card a final round one-over 73 and finish in a share of third at 15-under (273) alongside Denmark’s JB Hansen. (Writing by Tom Bartlett in London, Editing by Sonia Oxley)