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Time not on Mickelson's side for his elusive Grand Slam

Tough task: Phil Mickelson is still searching for victory in the US Open
Tough task: Phil Mickelson is still searching for victory in the US Open

By Brian Keogh

Phil Mickelson will be 50 if he manages to finally manages to lift the US Open trophy at Winged Foot next year and complete the career Grand Slam.

It's a glaring omission on the left-hander's stunning CV, and if last year's antics at an out of control Shinnecock Hills weren't humiliating enough, he didn't even have the USGA to blame this time.

"I've got to hand it to the USGA for doing a great setup," Mickelson said after taking an eight on the 18th in a third round 75 left him 14 strokes behind Gary Woodland heading into last night's final round at Pebble Beach, where he finished with a 72 for a four over par total. "It's the best I've ever seen. It's identifying the best players. It's making the players the story."

Few would have envisioned Mickelson giving the USGA kudos after he lit up the US Open organisers in the build-up the 119th US Open at one of America's iconic venues.

"I've played, what, 29 US Opens," Mickelson said at the Memorial Tournament. "One hundred per cent of the time they have messed it up if it doesn't rain. Rain is the governor. That's the only governor they have. If they don't have a governor, they don't know how to control themselves."

The US Open is all about control and Mickelson has shown little in recent years.

Whatever about his wildness off the tee - a no-no for a US Open winner - he lost his cool last year, famously batting a moving ball on the ice-rink-like 13th green when conditions got out of hand.

With six runner-up finishes in the US Open on his resumé, he has endured more heartbreak than anyone else in the history of this championship.

He knows that time has all but run out in his quest to ascend the Mount Olympus of golf and join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to win all four majors in the Masters era.

Having finished second to Payne Stewart in 1999, Tiger Woods in 2000, Retief Goosen in 2004, Geoff Ogilvy in 2006, Lucas Glover in 2009 and Justin Rose in 2013, it's becoming increasingly likely that he will never get the job done.

"The difficulty is not the age," he told the New York Times. "The difficulty is that when you're in your 20s, you feel like you have multiple chances. And when you're turning 49, you're like, I've got two more chances - this year, and maybe Winged Foot, and that's about it."

Only Colin Montgomerie has as painful a memory of the US Open at Winged Foot as Mickelson, who handed the title to Geoff Ogilvy there 13 years ago.

Needing a par-four at the 18th to win his third straight major - and a bogey to force a playoff - he made a double-bogey six.

He sliced his drive so badly it hit the roof of the pavilion and ended up in trampled grass. He had to cut his recovery around a big tree but caught some limbs and his ball went just 25 yards.

From there he plugged an eight iron in a bunker, blasted through the green into more rough and made six.

"I just can't believe that I did that," he famously said afterwards. "I am such an idiot."

If he fails to complete the career grand slam, he will be in august company alongside the likes of Byron Nelson and Ray Floyd (The Open); Sam Snead and Harold Hilton (US Open); Walter Hagen, Jim Barnes, Tommy Armour, Lee Trevino and Rory McIlroy (Masters); and Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and Jordan Spieth (US PGA).

It's not only that he's running out of time but the fact that he wants it so badly that makes it tougher.

"I put more pressure on it," he said. "That's the difficult thing."

He remains a crowd favourite, however, and even his playing partners were inspired by him at Pebble Beach.

Graeme McDowell will turn 40 next month and in Mickelson he sees a competitive animal who simply refuses to give up.

"It was really inspiring to watch Phil out there at 49 years old being as gritty and competitive as I've maybe ever seen him," McDowell said. "That's cool. I took inspiration from that."

Meanwhile, Darren Clarke's hosting of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open appears set for 2021 with Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington ready to succeed Paul McGinley as the face of the tournament next year.

Belfast Telegraph


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