“When he got to 18 on Thursday, he hit the best shot he hit all day and then three-putted. I think that kind of reinforces that stuff happens over here that you really can’t control,” Mackay said. “That you’re going to hit good shots and it’s not going to work out, and you suck it up and you move on.
“And the tournament could have gotten away from him, too, in the fairway bunker on 15 yesterday. And he didn’t let it, you know what I mean? Suck it up and move on. That’s what he did. He was just in a great place all week.”
Yet if Mickelson was going to crack, the place and time to do it Sunday would have been at the par-3 16th. He’d already clawed his way back from a 5-shot deficit and into the lead. His iron off the tee pierced the wind with a low trajectory and scooted onto the green at just the right speed to hold. Instead, it skittered off the right side and into a bunker.
“That was a bad break, but I was probably more bothered by it than he was,” Mackay said. “We walked up there. He saw it and said, `I can get it up and down.’ Pretty matter of fact. So I went, `Cool.’”
Mickelson did, then birdied No. 17, and walked up with a chance to do same at the 18th. A crowd of thousands packing the grandstands on either side of the fairway rose to their feet as one, clapping wildly. Mickelson made that curling left-to-right 10-footer to slam the door on the field behind him. Somehow, at 43, Mickelson isn’t simply holding his own, he appears to be turning back the clock.
“He’s stronger than he’s ever been. He’s fitter than he’s ever been. He’s hungrier than he’s ever been and you can understate how much he wants to compete and do well,” Mackay said.
“I joke around with him all the time that when he’s 60 on the putting green at Augusta, he’s going to say, `I got a chance.’ “
Maybe not. But a career Grand Slam hardly seems like a stretch anymore.
“I think that that’s the sign of the complete great player. And I’m a leg away. And it’s been a tough leg for me,” Mickelson said to laughter, “but I think that’s the sign. I think there’s five players that have done that. And those five players are the greats of the game. You look at them with a different light.
“And if I were able to ever win a U.S. Open, and I’m very hopeful that I will _ but it has been elusive for me. And yet,” he said finally, “this championship has been much harder for me to get.”
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/Jim Litke.