GULLANE, Scotland – Even after he made back-to-back bogeys to fall out of a tie for the lead, Henrik Stenson never thought he was out of the British Open.
Ian Poulter had posted a 1-over 285, and Stenson was 1 over with five holes to play.
He just had no idea Phil Mickelson in the group ahead of him was piling up so many birdies down the stretch Sunday at Muirfield.
"All of a sudden, I saw he was 2 under and I was three back with only two holes to go," Stenson said. "So I said to my caddie when I made the birdie on 17, 'Maybe I can hole the second shot on 18 and get into a playoff.'"
Wishful thinking. Stenson could hear the crowd roar for another Mickelson birdie on the 18th that put Lefty at 3-under 281. The Swede with the slick sense of humor turned to his caddie again and told him, "A hole-in-one is pushing it, I think."
Stenson finished strong with a par, and his consolation prize was a silver medal. He closed with a 70 to finish three shots behind, alone in second place, for his best finish in a major. Stenson twice tied for third in the Open, though he was six shots behind Padraig Harrington at Royal Birkdale in 2008, and eight shots behind Louis Oosthuizen at St. Andrews two years later.
This time, he has a serious contender, one of four players to have at least a share of the lead on Sunday at Muirfield.
"Very happy with the performance," Stenson said. "We're getting closer. I've got two thirds and now a second. We all know what we're longing for."
Stenson, coming off three poor years brought on by illness and injuries since he won The Players Championship in 2009, is certainly headed in the right direction. He moved up to No. 20 in the world ranking.
"I've done some great improvements this season, getting back into form," Stenson said. "I know it might sound silly, a bit stupid to say that I didn't feel like I'm that overly confident with some parts of my game. But I still managed to keep it together. I've played this golf course very good, I think. Even though I made a few mistakes, I haven't made some big mistakes that kind of put me out of the tournament."
ATTENDANCE DOWN: Get this, the R&A believes the weather might have actually been too sunny and warm for the British Open.
Looking to put a favorable spin on a nearly 12 percent drop in attendance compared with the last Open at Muirfield in 2002, tournament organizers said advance sales were strong but not as many fans bought tickets at the gate. The weeklong tournament drew 142,036, compared with a turnout of 160,595 the last time it was held at this course near Edinburgh.
"We are pleased with this attendance," the R&A said in a statement. "We believe the extremely warm weather put off some of our pay-at-the-gate customers. That is perhaps why, unusually, we had a higher attendance on Sunday in cooler weather than we did on Friday, which is normally the busiest day.
The weather was sunny most of the week, with temperatures generally in the 70s. It was overcast on Sunday, with highs only reaching the 60s.
Attendance for the final round was the highest of the week — 29,247. But that was still lower than all four rounds in 2002, when crowds exceeded 30,000 each day.
Organizers also noted that two other major sporting events may have hurt attendance — the Tour de France, won by Chris Froome in the second straight triumph for a British rider, as well as the Ashes cricket test between England and Australia.
SCOTTISH PROUD: No winning press conference at the British Open is complete without at least one provincial question.
One Scottish reporter had asked Phil Mickelson a week ago where he ranked his victory in the Scottish Open against all the other wins in his career. With the claret jug at his side, the reporter asked him to rank the British Open against the others.
"Winning Castle Stuart, at the time, was a big win for me," Mickelson said. "But in seven days, it has gone down considerably."
Another writer asked Mickelson if he had any Scottish heritage in his surname.
"I don't know," Mickelson said, and then said in his best (or worst) Scottish accent, "I don't know. Maybe a wee bit."
Another reporter went asked what took Mickelson so long to figure out how to play links golf. Instead of referencing Mickelson playing in his 15th British Open, he pointed out that Mickelson played a Walker Cup at Portmarnock and once said he was inspired by the links of Lahinch.
Yes, the reporter was Irish.
PAR SHOOTER: Padraig Harrington made 54 pars at the U.S. Open, and he made 50 pars in the British Open on a tough Muirfield course. That's usually the kind of golf that contends in major championships. Of course, it helps to make a few birdies along the way. That's where the Irishman was in short supply.
He only made six birdies in each championship.
Leave it to Harrington to realize during the final round Sunday that he had not made a single birdie on a par 3 or a par 4 the entire week. He desperately tried to change that, but his final chance was a 20-foot putt on the 18th that narrowly missed.
"And not to make a birdie on a par 4 or par 3 the whole week, what are the odds of that?" he said. "Seriously, what are the odds of that? You wouldn't have to be very good to at least stumble into a birdie at some stage."
Harrington closed with a 70, making two birdies — on the par 5s, of course — and only one bogey on the par-3 13th when he pulled his shot into a bunker.
There were no bogey-free rounds all week at Muirfield. Harrington did not realize that during his final round, and he wish he didn't know when it was over.
"Really? Now you've upset me," he said. "It would have been nice to achieve something."
Out of the tournament, Harrington was chasing his own little goals. And so what annoyed him Sunday was missing a 10-foot birdie putt on the 17th. He was trying to play the final round without a 5 on his card.
VALUABLE LESSON: Matthew Fitzpatrick figures golf can only get easier from here on out.
After winning the silver medal as top amateur at the British Open, the 18-year-old said, "I can't imagine any other amateur event ever being as hard as the course we've played this week."
Fitzpatrick shot a 1-over 72 at Muirfield on Sunday to finish 10 over, five shots better than fellow amateur Jimmy Mullen.
"He doesn't miss many shots, hits it straight," said playing partner Fred Couples, who's nearly three times Fitzpatrick's age. "As he gets bigger, he'll hit it a little further, but he hits it plenty far."
Fitzpatrick's week on the big stage began with him being mistaken for Tiger Woods' ball-carrier on the range. It ended with him being labeled the next big thing in British golf. And like one of his predecessors, Luke Donald, he'll head to Northwestern University outside Chicago to play college golf.