Waking up at his home in Arizona this morning, Phil Mickelson must be wondering whether he is destined never to lift the one title he has always craved above all others.
With a T52 finish at Pebble Beach on Sunday, it proved to be another year without a US Open crown for ‘Lefty’. A disappointing result for a man many thought would threaten Brooks Koepka and Co at the top of the leaderboard.
His victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am back in February – his fifth at the venue – had fans believing this could be the perfect course for Mickelson to become just the sixth player in history to complete the career grand slam.
But he failed to fire for much of the weekend and one wonders whether it was his last best chance to complete the elusive set of majors.
When he came out for his third round on Saturday, he was two-under par and looking confident with his iron play. But instead of continuing his calm and confident approach, he capitulated on the back nine, firing a disastrous five-over, including a triple bogey at the par-5 18th.
For his 49th birthday on the final day, the five-time major winner was welcomed with a loud chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’, but could only manage a one-over 72 to finish seventeen shots behind eventual winner Gary Woodland on four-over par.
A tie for 52nd was hardly a dream birthday present for the six-time runner-up, but the American fans still clapped him off like he’d won the tournament.
It was the 29th time that Mickelson walked away without the US Open trophy on Sunday. He’s already older than any major winner and four years older than any other US Open champion – Hale Irwin being the oldest winner at 45 in 1990.
If he couldn’t be in the hunt on Pebble, a course where he has shone over the years, it’s hard to imagine he will be better in future championships.
Mickelson himself knows as well as anyone that time is running out. But it’s tough to admit defeat, especially for someone who is always going to show confidence and keep trying instead of running away and giving up.
When thinking back to 2006 at Winged Foot, Mickelson must wince in his rocking chair when he remembers how close he could have been. Needing only a par on the 18th to secure victory, he struck a reckless tee shot and ended up firing a six to lose by one shot.
Love him or loathe him, you can’t deny that Mickelson’s the people’s champion at every tournament. The fans come out in force to see him. They sing, they chant, they play every hole with him. If he birdies, they cheer. If he bogeys, they wince in pain.
Everyone wants to see him win.
And after nearly three decades attempting to capture the US Open title, that last remaining chance is wilting away like leaves blowing away in the Autumn wind, especially with the average age of a player winning a major now 32-years-old.
The next courses on the US Open schedule will be Winged Foot, Brookline and Pinehurst – each beautiful, but longer and tougher than Pebble Beach.
Some say Winged Foot might be Mickelson’s last big opportunity to tread where very few have done before, and be considered one of the great golfers of all time. He is already, but Winged Foot, starting two days after his 50th birthday, will be the next last best chance to win that elusive career grand slam.
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