Phil Mickelson turns 51 on Wednesday, the day before the US Open gets underway at Torrey Pines. Next Sunday, he will be hoping to become the sixth man to complete the professional career Grand Slam. Yes, at the US Open, in which ‘Lefty’ has finished second no less than six times. Let us count the ways of those last-round days.
Pinehurst 1999: Finished a shot behind Payne Stewart, who took the lead with a birdie at the 17thwhere Mickelson missed a short putt for his two. (Stewart would be killed in an airplane accident four months later.)
Bethpage Black 2002: Finished three shots behind Tiger Woods. The New York crowd were with Mickelson but bogeys at 16 and 17 fatally derailed him.
Shinnecock Hills 2004: Back in New York, and as the newly crowned Masters champion, Mickelson finished two behind Retief Goosen, who putted like God whereas Phil three-putted the 17th from eight feet to run up a devastating double-bogey.
Winged Foot 2006: Yet another New York gallery and again Phil was playing in front of them as the reigning Masters champion. This time as the reigning USPGA champion, too. He finished a shot adrift of the winner in a championship which is remembered in the UK as the one thrown away by Colin Montgomerie whereas in the States it is recalled as another big blemish for Phil. Monty needed a par-four to win but made six from the middle of the 18th fairway. Mickelson was in the same situation and made his six via a hospitality pavilion and a tree trunk. Ahead of them, Jim Furyk had missed a four-foot putt that would have put him in a playoff. Geoff Ogilvy was on hand to pick up the pieces.
2009: Back at Bethpage, and continuing his run of runners-up spots in New York state, Mickelson ended the week in a three-way tie for second, two shots behind Lucas Glover. As at Pinehurst and Shinnecock, it was at a par-three 17th hole where Phil’s hopes finally foundered.
Merion 2013: Finished two shots behind Justin Rose, joint runner-up with Jason Day. A birdie at the last would have earned Mickelson a playoff. Instead he made bogey. Five weeks later, he won the Open Championship for the first (and only) time at Muirfield.
Last month Mickelson won the USPGA Championship for the second time, becoming the oldest man to win a major. Tom Watson nearly nailed that accolade for himself, and probably for all time, but a bogey at the final hole at Turnberry cost him the 2009 Open at the age of 59. Mickelson has won six majors, Watson eight, although in his case the USPGA was the one that remained eternally out of reach. A couple of weeks ago, Watson was asked about the prospects of Mickelson finally ending his US Open heartbreak. “If he can win on the Ocean Course at Kiawah [which he did at the PGA], he can win anywhere. That’s a tough, tough, tough golf course.”
One suspects the bigger barrier may lie in Mickelson’s mind…or could a major miracle really strike twice in just two months?
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