Mickelson has had only two good shots at the British Open, in 2004 at Royal Troon and in 2011 at Royal St. George’s. And while he won the PGA Championship in 2005 at Baltusrol, his only other chances were at Valhalla in 1996, Atlanta in 2001 when David Toms beat him with a par putt on the last hole, and Whistling Straits in 2004 when he finished two shots out of a playoff.
But the U.S. Open? Lefty seems to be in the hunt every other year.
He twice had chances at Shinnecock Hills. He played the par-5 16th hole in 6-over par for the week in 1995. That would be operator error. In 2004, Mickelson ran into a great putting performance from Retief Goosen, who one-putted the last six holes on greens so fast they barely had any grass. Mickelson contributed to his runner-up finish with a three-putt from 5 feet above the hole on No. 17 for a double bogey.
Mickelson gave a valiant effort at Bethpage Black in 2002. He started the day five shots behind Tiger Woods, which was not a fair fight. Mickelson was six shots behind going into the final round at Bethpage in 2009 and was tied for the lead with five holes to play. He missed a 3-foot putt on the 15th and an 8-footer on the 17th.
He was right there at Pebble Beach in 2010, the most visibly angry he’s been over how the USGA let the greens get away in the last round. How his birdie putt stayed out on No. 14 in the final round is one of golf’s many mysteries.
Every discussion about Mickelson and U.S. Open has to include Winged Foot in 2006. He had a one-shot lead and made double bogey on the last hole by trying to hit 3-iron around a tree from left of the fairway. If he had punched it down the fairway, he had a good chance at par and at worst made bogey. Instead, he delivered a line that lives in U.S. Open infamy. “I am such an idiot,” he said.
As for Merion?
“This was my best chance of all,” Mickelson said. “I had a golf course I really liked. I felt this was as good as opportunity as you could ask for. It really hurts.”
He had the outright 54-hole lead for the first time, though add some U.S. Open reality _ seven guys were separated by two shots, which in effect is like having no lead at all. Mickelson didn’t blow this one, not as he did at Winged Foot. Everyone makes mistakes in the final round of golf’s toughest test.
Mickelson had a pair of three-putts on the front nine for double bogey, another on the back nine when his first “putt” was with his wedge. The USGA had him for 37 putts in the final round. What let him down were his wedges _ too strong on No. 5 and No. 13, too weak on No. 15, three holes that cost him four shots.
Justin Rose three-putted the 11th. He nearly shanked a bunker shot on the 14th. He three-putted the 16th.
What will be remembered is how Rose saved his best two swings for the final hole, including that 4-iron that he said might have made Hogan proud. And this U.S. Open will be remembered for Mickelson leaving with another silver medal. No one ever said golf was fair.