Saturday 21 September 2019

Mickelson wait goes on and on

Veteran will be 50 next year if he wins Open

ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Phil Mickelson plays a shot from a bunker on the 11th hole at Pebble Beach, California. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Phil Mickelson plays a shot from a bunker on the 11th hole at Pebble Beach, California. Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Pebble Beach was meant to be the ideal venue for Phil Mickelson to finally win the US Open and complete the career grand slam.

After all, the left-hander had won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for a fifth time in February and his grandfather was one of the first caddies at the venue when it opened in 1919.

Instead, all that Mickelson was left with after a week on the Monterey Peninsula was another disappointing finish and the realisation that he will be 50 before his next chance to lift the trophy arrives at Winged Foot next year.

Julius Boros, who was 48 when he won the 1968 US PGA, is the oldest winner of any major title.

Since claiming the third leg of the career grand slam at the Open Championship at Muirfield in 2013, Mickelson has never threatened to win the US Open or even come close to replicating one of his record six runners-up finishes, the last of which came the month before he lifted the Claret Jug.

Amazingly he even opted to skip the tournament in 2017 to attend his daughter's high school graduation, something which cemented his reputation as an all-around good guy, an image shattered last year at Shinnecock Hills following an incident during the third round.

The five-time major winner, who was already four over par for the day on his 48th birthday, badly overhit a putt on the 13th hole which was set to roll off the parched green.

However, Mickelson prevented that from happening by running after the ball and hitting it while it was still rolling, a breach of rule 14-5 which incurs a two-shot penalty.

Such a flagrant and deliberate act was met with fierce criticism from several quarters, with former US PGA champion Steve Elkington among those calling for Mickelson to be disqualified and accusing him of "trying to embarrass the USGA."

Mickelson was unrepentant in the immediate aftermath, claiming he was using the rules to his advantage and telling his critics to "toughen up", although a few days later he sent a message to a handful of American journalists offering his apologies.

Nevertheless, the feeling lingered that Mickelson had been sending a message to the USGA over the way they set up courses for the US Open and it was noticeable that he was full of praise following his third round at Pebble Beach.

"Certainly I'm disappointed," Mickelson said. "I felt like I played a lot better than I'm scoring. (But) I'm really happy that I had this chance, this opportunity this week.

"I've got to hand it to the USGA for doing a great setup. It's the best I've ever seen. And it's identifying the best players. It's making the players the story.

"I think the biggest thing was pin placements. Instead of putting them right on the edges they were in good spots, rewarding great shots. I'm appreciative to the effort they've put in and for the opportunity that I had this week."

Mickelson's next opportunity comes in 2020 at Winged Foot, the site of arguably his best chance for victory in 2006.

As the winner of the 2005 US PGA and 2006 US Masters, Mickelson was chasing his third straight major title - a feat only Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods have managed previously - and came to the 72nd hole needing a par to win.

However, after a wild drive which bounced back into play off a marquee to the left of the fairway, Mickelson's attempted recovery caught a tree and remained in the rough and his third found a greenside bunker.

From a "fried-egg" lie Mickelson was unable to keep the ball on the green and missed the return chip to force a play-off, leaving Geoff Ogilvy to claim the title.

"I'm still in shock that I did that," Mickelson said. "I'm such an idiot. This one hurts more than any tournament because I had it won. I had it in my grasp and let it go. This is going to take a while to get over."

So far it is 13 years and counting.

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