Mickelson poised to be the story of the U.S. Open - again

Posted: June 13, 2014

PINEHURST, N.C. - Even if Tiger Woods and his recuperating back were here this week, this U.S. Open would mostly belong to Phil Mickelson.

As it was, in many ways, last June at Merion, when Mickelson flew cross-country on the eve of the first round to attend his daughter Amanda's eighth-grade graduation, then led the championship from the start until the final few holes.

He had to settle for his sixth runner-up in this major, which extended his own record for futility in the event. Now, after going on last July to win the British Open he wasn't supposed to be able to win, he's again stalking the title that would make him the sixth man to own a career Grand Slam.

Yesterday at Pinehurst No. 2 - where in 1999 he finished second for the first time when Payne Stewart immortalized himself by jarring a 15-foot par putt on the 72nd hole - Mickelson opened with an even-par 70 that included two bogeys on his closing four holes.

So he's put himself very much in the picture. By this point, nobody should be shocked.

"I'm never upset [with even par]," said Lefty, who turns 44 Monday. "It's a good start. I didn't hurt myself any. I had a chance to get to 3-, 4-, 5-under, had I made some makeable opportunities. But I didn't throw anything away.

"I didn't miss a fairway with my driver. It's an unusual thing for me. The [club] that's hurting me is the putter. So I've got to get that turned around."

He used a claw putting grip, which takes his left hand off the club.

"It's not a long-term thing," he said. "I like putting conventional. It might be weeks. It might be months. It might be days, hours. I don't know. It's just one of those things. [This] helps with my alignment, and it takes some of the pressure and hit out of it. So when that starts to go away, I'll go back."

So maybe his 24th time in the Open will finally be the one.

"You never know," Mickelson said. "But this golf course is a course where I can get a similar feeling that I get at Augusta [where he's won three Masters], where I don't have to be perfect. I can miss greens and still get up and down. I always have a chance.

"The people out here have been wonderful. It's a special place for me. I've got a lot of great emotions and memories from '99. To come back and feel the support is really cool."

He was asked again about being questioned recently by the FBI as to his possible involvement in a stock-trading probe from 2011. The New York Times reported yesterday that multiple sources indicated no evidence was found to implicate him in one of the two investigations he's been linked to.

"I do have a lot to say, and I will say it at the right time," Mickelson said. "I just can't say it right now. I'll continue to say, I haven't done anything wrong. I'm willing to help out, love to help out, in any way, on the investigation. With an investigation going on, I'm not going to comment any further on it."

What he will never stop talking about is how much he wants to win our Open.

"This is a tournament that means a lot to me," he said. "I don't know if it will be this week, or next year or the year after. I do still have 100 percent confidence that I'll be able to break through and get one."

Or maybe even more. As Gordon Gecko once noted, greed is good.

On Twitter: @mikekerndn

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