Lefty’s date with destiny
Mickelson has won five majors – the 2004, 2006 and 2010 US Masters, the 2005 US PGA Championship and the 2013 British Open
If Phil Mickelson’s form guide heading into the 114th US Open was pinned alongside just about any other name, you wouldn’t give the player much hope of contending at Pinehurst No.2, let alone winning. But where there is a Phil, there is a way.
Lefty being lefty, just about anything is possible in the year’s second major and especially when victory would put a sweet exclamation mark on the soon-to-be 44-year-old’s hall-of-fame career.
Forget the fact there’s been just two top 10s since his stunning Open Championship victory at Muirfield last July, one of them a blown opportunity in January’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship when Lefty went righty out of a bush on the 13th hole Sunday and racked up a double-hit, triple bogey to eventually lose by a shot.
Ignore the fact he missed the weekend at the US masters for the first time since 1999 in April, and fret not about the 25-footer on the 18th green Friday that slipped by and saw Mickelson miss the cut at The Players Championship for the second straight year. Three missed cuts and two WDs in 14 starts since the beginning of the PGA Tour’s 2013-14 wraparound season. Who’s counting?
Mickelson knows how to get it done when it really counts, at least in all the bigs apart from the US Open that is where he is the owner of a record six runner-up finishes and a total of 10 top 10s.
But remember, this is the guy that didn’t win his first major, the 2004 US Masters, until the age of 33 when plenty figured he would make a lot of money playing golf, just not a lot of history. And let’s not forget that ability to
go low when it counts – his third round 63 at Abu Dhabi National when he looked out of contention going into the weekend is a case in point while another 63 at Quail Hollow in May’s Wells Fargo Championship again hinted at a timely return to form.
The problem is, he followed it up with a Sunday 76 – uncharacteristically missing four putts inside five feet – in Charlotte and then went 75-70 at TPC Sawgrass in The Players. Just like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you just don’t know what you are going to get from Mickelson.
Whatever the outcome at Pinehurst, you can bet on him going out in a blaze of birdies. Or bogeys.
“I don’t feel bad about the game,” Mickelson insisted after his early exit from The Players. “But mentally, I’m just soft right now.”
Don’t read too much into that either. Mickelson has made a career out of finding his game when all looks lost and you can be sure the Ryder Cup veteran will be up for his tee time come June 12, just as he was able to lift himself out of the depths following his Sunday 74 to finish tied second with Jason Day in last year’s US Open at Merion, two shots behind Justin Rose.
“Heartbreak,” said Mickelson after the cruelest of his six near misses. “This is tough to swallow after coming so close. This was my best chance of all of them. I was playing well, I had a golf course I really liked that
I could play aggressive on a number of holes. I felt like this was as good an opportunity I could ask for and to not get it … it hurts.”
Lesser men may never have been seen on a major championship leaderboard again but somehow Phil willed his way to victory at Muirfield the very next time out and on the type of course even he secretly fretted he didn’t have the game to conquer.
Mickelson had Jack Nicklaus’ tournament – The Memorial – at Muirfield Village and the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis last week to get his game into shape. He finished T49 and a more encouraging 11th respectively, nothing to be sniffed at given he remains embroiled in an FBI investigation surrounding insider trading.
The scrutiny won’t let up ahead of Thursday’s opening round at Pinehurst. Mickelson has never been a model of consistency but outside of September’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in Scotland and perhaps Tiger Woods’ dodgy back, there is no bigger story in golf this year. He’ll no doubt have a ready answer when he’s asked a million times about the career grand slam and his memories of losing by a shot to a fist-pumping Payne Stewart the last time Pinehurst hosted America’s national championship.
Pinehurst No.2 has been redesigned since then and chances are Mickelson will have re-engineered his game somehow to have a solution down the stretch Sunday on the famous North Carolina layout. Anything less and it just wouldn’t be Phil being Phil, taking us on another absorbing, emotional rollercoaster ride. - Kent Gray is Managing Editor of Middle East Golfer magazine.
Only five players have achieved the career Grand Slam in the modern era – Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Bobby Jones completed a pre-US Masters Grand Slam between 1924-30, winning 5 US Amateurs, 4 US Opens, 3 Open Championships and the 1930 British Amateur.
A look back at Phil Mickelson’s record six runner-up finishes at the US Open.
2002 – Bethpage Black
Tiger Woods wins by three despite bogeying two of his last three holes in the gathering gloom. Mickelson, on his 32nd birthday, saw his challenge extinguished with a bogey on 16.
Head-to-Head: Tiger Woods (USA) 67-68-70-72 277 v 280 70-73-67-70 Phil Mickelson (USA)
2004 – Shinnecock Hills
Mickelson led by one after a birdie on 16 but thinned a bunker shot on the next, raced his par putt six feet past and missed the return for an agonising double. Retief Goosen won by two.
Head-to-Head: Retief Goosen (RSA) – 70-73-67-71 276 v 278 68-66-73-71 Phil Mickelson (USA)
2006 – Winged Foot
Lefty doubles the 72nd after driving into a hospitality tent, a hole that also derailed Colin Montgomerie (double) and Jim Furyk (missed 5ft par putt). Geoff Ogilvy avoids the carnage to win by a stroke.
Head-to-Head: Geoff Ogilvy (AUS) 71-70-72-72 285 v 286 70-73-69-74 Phil Mickelson (USA)
2009 – Bethpage Black
A birdie-eagle strike on the 12th and 13th had Mickelson in pole position but a sorry three-putt on 15 and another bogey on the 17th opened the door for Lucas Glover who got home by two.
Head-to-Head: Lucas Glover (USA) 69-64-70-73 276 v 278 69-70-69-70 Phil Mickelson (USA)
2013 – Merion
When Mickelson holed a 76-yard wedge shot for eagle on 10, it seemed destiny was finally on his side. But Justin Rose got home by two as Lefty’s peerless wedge game went west.
Head-to-Head: Justin Rose (ENG) 71-69-71-70 281 v 283 69-72-70-74 Phil Mickelson (USA)