TROON, Scotland, July 17 (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson said he had never played better without winning after finishing second in a British Open head-to-head with Henrik Stenson on Sunday that rivalled the epic "Duel in the Sun" between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson in 1977.
In his opening round at Royal Troon, Mickelson equalled the record for low round in a major championship, and came within a lipped-out birdie putt of setting a new record of 62. His final score of 267 equalled the Open record.
But Stenson also equalled the record for low round in any major with a 63, and he did it on Sunday, when it mattered most. And his final score of 264 broke the record for overall low score in any major championship.
"It's probably the best I've played and not won," Mickelson, who won the British Open at Muirfield in 2013, told reporters. "I don't have a point where I can look back and say, I should have done that or had I only done this. I played a bogey-free round of 65 on the final round of a major. Usually that's good enough to do it. And I got beat. I got beat by 10 birdies."
American Mickelson was aware of the Duel in the Sun comparisons. By early in Sunday's round, he said "it was pretty obvious that it was just us." He finished 11 strokes ahead of third-placed J.B. Holmes yet three behind magnificent Swede Stenson.
Despite missing out on a sixth major title at the age of 46, Mickelson said he can take some consolation - quite a lot of satisfaction - from how he played. "I'm very excited with the work that I've put in ... the way I was able to hit fairways with ease coming down the stretch and hit my iron shots right on line," he said.
Whether or not he looks back on it with fondness or as the one that got away, he was not sure. "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."