AP Golf Writer
GULLANE, Scotland (AP) -- 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."