Mickelson again fails to win U.S. Open

ASSOCIATED PRESS Phil Mickelson strategizes with his caddy on the third hole of the final round.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Phil Mickelson strategizes with his caddy on the third hole of the final round.
Posted: June 17, 2014

PINEHURST, N.C. - He signed and signed and signed in the hot evening sun.

As his fellow also-rans finished behind him on the 18th green at Pinehurst No. 2, he signed flags and hats and shirts; then, on his way down the steps to the locker room, he heard a woman holler from the overhanging porch:

"Phil! Phil! Phil! Please, for my dad, Phil!"

With that, golf's most credited dad stretched the length of his 6-3 frame, snared the dangling ticket with a tanned, manicured hand, signed his name one last time and disappeared, to even more cheers.

Mickelson might whine about his taxes, and he might be hounded by government agents, and he might never win the title he always wanted most, the U.S. Open.

But he always will be cherished.

Every year, the USGA seeks to reward the world's most complete golfer with the game's most challenging championship.

Mickelson never has been the world's greatest golfer during the U.S. Open.

He certainly wasn't this week. He was out of contention by the 36th hole.

"I threw too many shots away the first two rounds to really have a good chance," said Mickelson, who finished 7-over, tied for 28th and 16 strokes behind runaway winner Martin Kaymer, who played with meticulous control.

Mickelson seldom is meticulously controlled with every club, and he never is meticulously controlled with his head.

His precious wedges and streaky putter abandoned him on Sunday at Merion last year, when he shot 4-over in the final round and recorded his record sixth runner-up result in the Open. His brain shortcircuited in 2006 at Winged Foot, when, foolishly, he twice played the more aggressive shot on the 72nd hole and turned a 1-shot lead into a 1-shot loss.

This week he was in control of little more than his tee ball, and he never threatened to win; but, in the absence of Tiger Woods, still sidelined after back surgery, Mickelson, by far, had the biggest galleries, to the delight of his playing partner, Open rookie Brendon Todd.

"We had more people watching us [Sunday] that I did in the last group [Saturday] with Martin," said Todd, who played with Kaymer on Saturday.

Mickelson also cultivated the most sparkling image.

He has befriended a wheelchair-bound young man, David Finn, who joined him here this weekend.

He had a pager in his pocket here in 1999 when he posted the first of his record six runners-up, because, a continent away, his pregnant wife Amy was keeping their first child in her womb with willpower (and drugs). He not only made it back for the birth the next day, 14 years later he risked missing the first round of the U.S. Open at Merion to attend that child's eighth-grade graduation in California.

Yesterday, Father's Day, he talked of completing a Monopoly game with his son, Evan, on the plane ride home. He talked of family vacations before he defends his British Open title at Hoylake next month.

And he acknowledged the inevitability of him not winning this U.S. Open.

"Given the way I have been playing heading into this tournament, it was really a longshot," said Mickelson, 81st on this season's money list entering the Open.

He knew he wasn't going to win. Part of Mickelson's charm is his candor. His emotions seem real; his humility, earnest.

Whenever Mickelson talks about his career, especially these days, after he unexpectedly won the British last year, the completion of his legacy hinges on winning a U.S. Open.

"I'll start getting ready for Hoylake, and I'm optimistic about the end of this year," Mickelson said, "but I'm excited about the coming years, too."

The coming years are his final years. Mickelson will turn 44 today, and he already fights arthritis.

No player has won a major past the age of 46, which Jack Nicklaus managed at the 1986 Masters. No player has won a U.S. Open past the age of 45, when Hale Irwin won in 1990. Nicklaus and Irwin won in their 40s when golf was still a game of private, old boys clubs; now, it's a game of guys who belong to flashy health clubs.

Mike Donald wasn't ripping through CrossFit sets when he lost to Irwin in 1990.

Mickelson connects with the golf world, with the sports world, because everyone loves a lovable loser. Despite 42 PGA Tour wins and five major championships, Phil played in the Tiger era. Phil might be high on the mountain but there's only room for one at the top.

Mickelson not only isn't Tiger, he won't be Gene Sarazen unless he wins a U.S. Open and completes the career grand slam. Given Mickelson's history it's easy to understand why that probably won't happen.

Mickelson has never been ranked No. 1 in the world. Yes, Tiger owned it for long stretches during the meat of Phil's career, but it also was held by Ernie Els, David Duval, Vijay Singh, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and, now, by Adam Scott.

The ranking might be flawed, but it does reward consistent worldwide excellence, not just intermittent genius.

The ranking is a better barometer for gauging overall greatness than the U.S. Open winner. Certainly, Justin Rose was not in dominant form either at Merion or for the rest of last season, but at Merion he was smart and consistent and never more than one shot north or south of par for any round. Webb Simpson was a better champion; he won the 2012 championship with a 2-under final round as Jim Furyk imploded, and Simpson had already won that year, and he had nearly won another.

But both were complete. Both were able to finish the job.

Mickelson has three green jackets, but winning multiple Masters does not necessarily indicate spectacular all-around golf. Augusta National favors lefthanders who can shape the ball right to left, and it is the sort of course where local knowledge compiled year after year compounds itself. Mickelson had seven top 10s in his first 11 Masters, then won in his 12th, 14th and 18th starts.

The U.S. Open rotates. Local knowledge is negligible. Mickelson had a decided advantage here, where he played in 1999 and 2005, and the USGA set up the course to favor him the first 2 days, and it did him no good.

Still, he was gracious enough to applaud the rustic remake of Pinehurst No. 2; politically wise enough to wish well the U.S. Women's Open, played here this week in an attempt to boost the LPGA Tour; and, briefly, to acknowledge that he has a world's championship to defend in July.

Small wonder Mickelson seems to minimize his upcoming defense. When he won the British, he shocked the golf world, considering his past performances in that style of play.

It will be a bigger shock if Mickelson ever wins his national championship.

He's a great golfer and a swell guy, but he just isn't built for it.

Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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