Looks like Lefty is reading from a familiar script at US Open
Mickelson insists Pinehurst No 2 set-up can help break hoodoo, but there are worrying signs
There is no escaping the feeling that Phil Mickelson is setting himself up for another fall.
It has happened half a dozen times before at the US Open, almost always following the same script. Mickelson digs a foothold near the top of the leader board in the opening round, hangs on, hangs on and then plays the last few holes on Sunday a stroke or three on the wrong side of par.
Inevitably, somebody else squeezes by and instead of a trophy, he takes home another "best supporting actor" title.
Almost on cue, Lefty shot an even-par 70 on his first competitive tour across the scruffy, renovated Pinehurst No 2 layout - five shots adrift of Martin Kaymer, who was the leader by three after the first round - and predicted once again this could be the year.
"This is a tournament that means a lot to me," he began. "I don't know if it will be this week or next year or the year after. I do still have 100 per cent confidence I'll be able to break through and get one.
"I do feel, though, that this tournament gives me a great chance on this golf course," he added, "because I don't feel like I have to be perfect".
Mickelson was close to that in the opening round with nearly every club in the bag, save the putter. He even surprised himself by hitting every fairway every time he leaned on his normally wayward driver.
Golfers like to say they make their own breaks, but Mickelson caught one early in the day after a report in The New York Times said US federal authorities found no evidence he traded in the stock of a firm, Clorox, that was part of an insider-trading probe.
The same report said Mickelson, as well as famed sports gambler Billy Walters, are still under investigation over separate well-timed trades they made in a second company, Dean Foods, in 2012 just before its stock soared.
Mickelson was asked about that after the round and he replied the way he has since reports that both the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission were looking into those trades first surfaced.
"Like I said before, with an investigation going on, I'm not going to comment any further on it. But I'll continue to say that I've done absolutely nothing wrong."
When pressed about whether he had pocketed US$1 million by trading Dean Foods' stock, he essentially gave the same answer: "I do have a lot to say and I will say it at the right time."
And either way, Mickelson said a few moments later that he had more than enough on his plate at the moment.
"It hasn't affected my preparation or anything for this tournament. I know I haven't done anything wrong," he said, "so I haven't been stressed about it."
We will take Mickelson at his word on this one, since his history at the US Open - let alone at this venue - is the kind of stuff that winds up on the cutting-room floor of a horror flick.
He was playing alongside the late Payne Stewart at Pinehurst in 1999 and getting ready for a play-off when Stewart rolled in a 15-footer for par and the win.
Mickelson's wife, Amy, was very pregnant when he arrived and his caddie, Bones Mackay, carried a beeper that, had it gone off, would have sent Lefty scrambling to the nearest airport for the next flight home. Turns out his daughter, Amanda, who is now almost 15, was born later that day, and just like the rest of us, all she knows is that when it comes to the US Open, her father has a funny way of finishing second a lot.
Mickelson reckons the fastest way to end that streak is to get hot with the putter. He has switched to the claw grip, and while it did not hurt his chances inside 10 feet or so, he did not make anything longer and Pinehurst's turtleback greens rarely let approach shots settle any closer. How long he stays with the new grip is anybody's guess.