• Fri
  • Nov 28, 2014
  • Updated: 3:37am
SportGolf

For Lefty, there's no silver lining

Six times, Phil Mickelson has come close to winning the US Open, most recently at Merion, and yet the prize he covets most remains elusive

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 June, 2013, 4:18am

The US Golf Association is not opposed to inflicting cruel and unusual punishment at its premier championship, so here's something it might want to consider: award the "Phil Mickelson Medal" to the runner-up in the US Open.

There is precedent. The US Open champion has received a gold medal ever since this brute of a tournament began in 1895, and yet the USGA tinkered with 117 years of tradition by last year changing the name to the "Jack Nicklaus Medal".

An argument can be made that Nicklaus, a four-time champion, isn't even the face of the US Open. Bobby Jones won it four times in eight years. The remarkable career and comeback of Ben Hogan was defined by the US Open. He won his four titles in six years, including the year he couldn't defend because he was recovering from near-fatal injuries after a head-on collision with a bus.

But there is no disputing who has cornered the market in silver. Mickelson broke the US Open record with his fifth runner-up finish in 2009 at Bethpage Black. There was a three-way tie for second that year with David Duval and Ricky Barnes, and the USGA had only one medal to present at the closing ceremony.

"I've got four of those," Mickelson said. "I'm good."

Sam Snead was a runner-up four times, and that doesn't even include the 1939 US Open in Philadelphia when he had a two-shot lead with two holes to play. He made bogey on the 17th and, not knowing the score, played the par-five 18th aggressively and took a triple bogey. Snead also lost in a play-off to Lew Worsham in 1947 at St Louis when there was a dispute over who was away on the last hole. Worsham called for a measurement, Snead went first and missed a three-footer to lose by one.

So maybe Mickelson has that going for him. He hasn't lost in a US Open play-off yet.

There's still time, of course, and that's the good news. The hunch - the hope - is that Mickelson will come back for one more shot, even if that means another kick in the gut for a guy who already has had the wind knocked out of him enough.

Don't read too much into the golf course.

There's a lot of chatter about the US Open returning next year to Pinehurst No 2, where Mickelson was runner-up for the first time in 1999 to Payne Stewart. But what about Pinehurst in 2005, when Lefty was 12 shots out of the lead in a tie for 33rd?

Also on the schedule are newcomers Chambers Bay and Erin Hills, along with Oakmont, Pebble Beach, Shinnecock Hills and Winged Foot, which will take Mickelson to his 50th birthday. His advancing age is a greater factor than where the US Open is played. Because Mickelson can win - and fail - anywhere.

Despite his record six silver medals, the US Open is the one major that Mickelson has had the most chances to win.

He plays the Masters consistently better, and has won three green jackets, but Mickelson had only three other reasonable chances to win at Augusta National.

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 and Whistling Straits in 2004.

But the US Open? Lefty seems to be in the hunt every other year.

He twice had chances at Shinnecock Hills. He played the par-five 16th hole in six over par for the week in 1995. 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 five 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 three-foot putt on the 15th and an eight-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 US 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 three-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 make bogey. Instead, he delivered a line that lives in US 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 an opportunity as you could ask for. It really hurts."

He had the outright 54-hole lead for the first time, though add some US Open reality - seven guys were separated by two shots. Mickelson didn't blow this one, not as he did at Winged Foot.

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 four-iron that he said might have made Hogan proud. And this US Open will be remembered for Mickelson leaving with another silver medal. No one ever said golf was fair.

Associated Press

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