If you’re one of the best golfers in the world, already in the World Golf Hall of Fame, is it wrong to skip a major tournament? Sure, if you’re sick or a family matter demands your immediate attention. But what about opting out of a major just because you don’t like the way it treats you?
Don’t blame Phil Mickelson if he considers about such a pardon. Can you blame him?
Lefty added another runner-up finish at the U.S. Open on Sunday, increasing his record number of silver medals at the event to six. He held a share of the lead entering the final round, but ended the day two shots back of first-time major winner Justin Rose of England.
As per usual, you can’t say Mickelson didn’t have his chances. Unlucky or bad reads – whatever you want to call them – he had birdie putts lip out at Nos. 1, 2 and 9. Many other such putts came nearly as close to falling. Things just didn’t seem to be going his way.
But then he sent his second shot on No. 10, which sat in the rough 76 yards away, straight into the cup. An eagle. That turned the lead back over to Mickelson. It seemed as if maybe things would go his way.
Not so much. He dropped three more shots over the rest of the back nine, including one on No. 18, when fans began chanting “Let’s go Phil!” He was preparing to chip from the fairway, a shot that needed to go in to force a playoff. It didn’t come close, and he two-putted from there.
“Heartbreak,” Mickelson told NBC after the round, adding, “This was my best chance of all them.”
He was referring to past U.S. Open appearances when he was in contention to win. He was talking about these five previous runner-up finishes:
1999 – A spry 29-year-old, Mickelson moved his way into contention on Sunday as his wife, Amy, was back home and due any minute with their first child. He carried a pager with him and vowed to walk off the course should that beeper tell him Amy was going into labor. But it never sounded, and he made it to 18 with a chance to win his first major. Mickelson’s 25-foot birdie putt, however, came up inches short, and Payne Stewart’s subsequent par putt from 15 feet fell in. That was the longest winning putt in U.S. Open history. Stewart cupped Mickelson’s head afterward and told him, “You’re going to be a father!”
2002 – Mickelson shot a 67 on Saturday to move into third place, but he still trailed the leader, Tiger Woods, by five strokes heading into the final round. Mickelson scored a 70, giving second place all to himself, but Woods still won by three shots. The idea of Mickelson being the “best player to never win a major” began to grow.
2004 – Mickelson tossed the no-majors monkey off his back by collecting the Masters title in 2004, and he entered the U.S. Open weekend with a share of the lead. A third-round 73 didn’t help matters, but he was just two shots back going into Sunday. Mickelson surged into the lead at one point, but that was all for naught when he three-putted from five feet on 17 and took a double bogey. Retief Goosen secured the title by two strokes.
2006 – This one hurt the most. A win at the U.S. Open would have made it three straight majors for Mickelson, who shared the lead Sunday morning. But an up-and-down final round unraveled on the par-4 18th, where he needed only a par to win. Mickelson’s tee shot sliced so wide left that it nailed a hospitality tent. His second shot hit a tree. His third shot dove into a bunker. His fourth shot landed on the green but rolled off. His fifth shot – which still could have forced a playoff – was never close. Geoff Ogilvy took the trophy. “I still am in shock that I did that,” Mickelson said afterward. “I just can’t believe that I did that. I am such an idiot. I can’t believe I couldn’t par the last hole. It really stings.”
2009 – Mickelson surprised some by opting to play as his wife, Amy, was battling breast cancer. But she encouraged him to go for it, and he took a share of the lead on Sunday. Yet his back nine became all too familiar. He missed a birdie putt at No. 14, three-putted for bogey on 15, and took another bogey at 17. Lucas Glover collected a two-shot victory over Mickelson and two others, giving Lefty his fifth runner-up finish at the national championship.
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