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Phil Mickelson of the United States holds up the Claret Jug trophy after winning the British Open Golf Championship at Muirfield, Scotland, Sunday July 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

Tiger Woods is looking up in envy at Phil Mickelson these days, which means everything we used to know about major tournament golf has flipped inside out.

The born winner is losing.

The jinxes are getting junked.

The flighty, approachable second fiddle is overshadowing the dour legend.

First, let's be clear: If we're talking about all-time credentials, Woods' total of 14 major victories still and always dwarfs his peers, including Mickelson.

But Mickelson's monumental British Open victory on Sunday, climaxing with an instant-classic final-round 66 and coupled with Woods' floundering 74, was more than enough to re-edit the usual golf narratives.

Tiger Woods of the United States reacts after putting on the 13th green during the final round of the British Open Golf Championship at Muirfield,
Tiger Woods of the United States reacts after putting on the 13th green during the final round of the British Open Golf Championship at Muirfield, Scotland, Sunday July 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham) ( Matt Dunham )

It's the way history works when the major players are intimately involved and the ground seems to move with each stroke.

To put a number to it, this victory gives Mickelson five career majors -- all since April 2004 -- and in that same span, Woods has won six.

It also gives Mickelson two majors in the last four calendar years; Woods has won none in the last five.

Of course, Woods has continued to win tour events over the last few years, but not majors, which are his and everybody's measurement for greatness.

And it's more than just numbers, of course.

Mickelson, 43, is five-and-a-half years older than Woods, but since the full-scale arrival of Woods in 1997, Mickelson has mostly served as a supporting player and regularly beaten antagonist.


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Woods always was the chosen one: The dramatic game plus the winning mentality plus the determination to conquer Nicklaus' major record.

Mickelson was the one with almost as much talent -- and much more easygoing charm. But he lacked some essential piece that seemed to keep him from cashing in reliably ... and to keep him far behind Woods.

As ESPN's Tom Rinaldi put it to Mickelson minutes after the conclusion of his round Sunday, Mickelson has had a love-hate relationship with links golf.

"And that relationship is minute-to-minute," Mickelson wise-cracked.

Mickelson has had titanic missed opportunities mostly at the U.S. Open, where he has finished second a record six times (including this year).

But he also had never been considered a true contender for the British Open -- his high-flying, modern-age game just didn't seem to fit the quirky, ancient links courses.

That is, until this year and especially until Sunday, when Mickelson started the day five shots behind third-round leader Lee Westwood and three behind Woods.

Mickelson hung around during his front nine, then exploded with four birdies in his last six holes.

So Mickelson (who has yet to win the U.S. Open) became the fourth player since 1980 to win three of the four majors, joining Woods, Nicklaus and Tom Watson.

Generally, as he enters the last stages of his prime, Mickelson has rewritten his career epitaph more thoroughly and more positively than any later-stage athlete I can remember, with the possible exceptions of John Elway and Andre Agassi.

And because Mickelson is always linked to Woods, Mickelson's sustained success filters our perception of Woods' recent downturn, too.

Woods has gone through personal scandal and major injuries since his last major victory in the 2008 U.S. Open, and he has not found the health, the way or the will to win another one in the 21 majors that have been played since then.

What used to be special about Woods was that he made every shot he had to, and some by way of mini-miracle.

Now, Woods gets himself to those moments, and can't convert, the way Mickelson used to get to the moment and fail. Woods is too tight, or too distracted, or just can't reconfigure his game to his aging body.

Conversely, at an age when most great players are deep into their career fades, Mickelson is better, looser and tougher than ever.

He just shot his career round, in rough and windy conditions, while Westwood, Adam Scott and Woods could not keep up.

Mickelson is the player who scrambled for par when his good tee shot onto the 16th green tumbled back off the green; and Mickelson is the one who conjured that perfect 308-yard 3-wood to the green on the par-5 17th.

And Mickelson is the man who won the British Open on his 20th try -- after missing the cut in four of those previous efforts, including last year.

Things have changed. Career trajectories have crossed.

Woods used to be the model for everyone, and now Mickelson is the loose and brilliant late-career model for Woods, whether Woods wants to admit it or not.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.

INSIDE

Phil Mickelson adds British Open to his title resume with a brilliant finish. PAGE 3

Leader board

(With final round, overall score and relation to par)
THE WINNER
Phil Mickelson 66--281 -3
THE RUNNER-UP
Henrik Stenson 70--284 E
The names
Ian Poulter 67--285 +1
Adam Scott 72--285 +1
Lee Westwood 75--285 +1
Zach Johnson 72--286 +2
Tiger Woods 74--286 +2
Hunter Mahan 75--287 +3
Sergio Garcia 75--291 +7
Ernie Els 74--292 +8
Bubba Watson 73--293 +9