ARDMORE, Pa. – Phil Mickelson keeps coming back, and presumably, next year at Pinehurst, he will return for what will be his 24th U.S. Open. He claims it to be fun, and maybe in the midst of it, while he’s holing out wedges for eagle to take the lead, it is.
But he is 43 now, 43 on Sunday in fact, with more of his career behind him than ahead. If the Open returns to Merion Golf Club, a glorious, rolling piece of land in the Philadelphia suburbs, Mickelson almost certainly won’t be there. He’ll finally be too old. Maybe that’s good. Why come back to see your own blood stains on the fairway of yet another golf course?
For me, Mickelson said, it’s very heartbreaking.
Justin Rose won the 113th U.S. Open Sunday with an even-par round of 70 that left him at 1-over 281 for the tournament.
He did so even though he bogeyed two of the final five holes, even though scarcely a soul in Merion’s grandstands pulled for him. That had nothing to do with Rose, an accomplished and gracious 32-year-old, and everything to do with Mickelson, whose relationship with the U.S. Open has long involved scar tissue, and now has one more open wound, liable to grow infected.
Sunday, Mickelson awoke with a one-shot lead, made two double bogeys in his first five holes, then bogeyed three of his final six to close with 74 and tie with Australia’s Jason Day for second – say it again, second – at 3-over 283. The particulars come later, but the wide-angle view is inescapable: Mickelson already held the record for runner-up finishes at the Open with five. Sunday, he extended it to six.
He has three Masters titles and a PGA Championship. And there are moments when those accomplishments scarcely seems to matter.
This one’s probably the toughest for me, because at 43 and coming so close five times, it would have changed way I look at this tournament altogether and the way I would have looked at my record, Mickelson said. Except I just keep feeling heartbreak.
So what Sunday leaves us, unfortunately, isn’t as much an opportunity to celebrate Rose, but an excruciating exercise in dissecting Mickelson. It was the same in 2004 at Shinnecock, remembered more for Mickelson, with the lead, three-putting for double bogey at the 17th than it is for Retief Goosen’s victory. It was even worse in 2006 at Winged Foot, where the specifics have become almost a lesson in how cruel golf can be to the psyche and soul. But because of what happened Sunday, they must be stated again: He held the lead on the 72nd tee, hit his drive into a tent left of the fairway, made an ill-advised attempt to play through some trees, and made double bogey to lose.
Come up with the winner then. Come on. It was Australian Geoff Ogilvy, who has never finished better than a tie for ninth in any other U.S. Open.
That is now the category into which Rose falls, the guy who won when Mickelson lost. It’s unfair, because Rose is a worthy champion, ranked fifth in the world. In last year’s Ryder Cup at Medinah, he birdied the final two holes of his singles match to help spark Europe’s comeback, a 1-up victory. His victim that day: Mickelson.
When Mickelson got to the 121-yard 13th, he trailed Rose by one, and launched a wedge through the green. Of the top seven finishers in the tournament, only Billy Horschel joined Mickelson in making even one bogey at 13. Mickelson bogeyed it twice.
And at the par-4 15th, he had 121 yards in, a wedge in his hand. I quit on it, he said, and his bogey there kept him from keeping pace with Rose, who had three-putted 16 to fall back to even par.
Thirteen and 15 were the two bad shots of the day that I’ll look back on – where I let it go, Mickelson said.
How could he, possibly, let another one go?
Mickelson needed to birdie the 18th to tie, to force a playoff. But this is the U.S. Open, and as painful as it is, he is Phil Mickelson. So turn off the television, because the ending has already been written. There would be no tying birdie. Just heartache by the bucket, and another lacerated, Open artery, bleeding all over Merion.