After record six runner-ups, Mickelson chases US Open win

·4 min read

After becoming golf's oldest major champion, Phil Mickelson takes aim at the greatest prize he has never won, a trophy that has slipped agonizingly from his grasp -- a US Open title.

The American left-hander, a record six-time US Open runner-up, will be an emotional favourite when the 121st US Open tees off Thursday at Torrey Pines, only minutes from his San Diego home.

Mickelson delivered a shocking win for the ages by capturing his sixth major title last month at the PGA Championship, defeating Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen by two strokes at Kiawah Island to become the oldest major champion in history at age 50.

"That's a win I'll cherish forever," Mickelson said. "It was a very special week."

Mickelson will turn 51 on Wednesday, the eve of the opening round of the US Open at Torrey Pines, where he has won three times, although not since a major renovation in 2001. That's why he spent the past two weeks practicing on the coastal layout.

"I'll try to put everything I can into that Open," Mickelson said. "I'll try to spend some time out there to just get comfortable on the golf course. Honestly since the redo 20 years ago, I have not played that course as well as I would like to. I tried to force it."

Mental focus and discipline, two of the critical aspects of his victory on the windy Atlantic Coast last month, will be crucial again at the US Open.

"A lot of pins you can't go to, you have to play 50-60 feet away, and a lot of holes I get overly aggressive, obviously that's my nature," Mickelson said.

"There's a proper way to play it and I've seen it and I want to have the discipline to do it and so I want to spend some time out there to develop a good game plan."

Mickelson, ranked 31st, has as many US Open runner-up finishes as he does major wins.

Asked if the focus he managed at the PGA would enable him to avoid mental errors that have nagged him at the US Open, Mickelson, said, "No, after 35 years of that, it's just not going to go away."

"Lefty" won his first US PGA title in 1991 at Tucson as a 20-year-old amateur and spent a while chasing major titles, with 17 top-10 major finishes from 1993-2003 before his breakthrough win at the 2004 Masters.

Mickelson later added the 2005 and 2021 PGAs, the 2006 and 2010 Masters and 2013 British Open. A US Open title would make him the sixth man to complete the career Grand Slam.

He owns 11 major runner-up efforts, including the six at US Opens.

In 1999, Mickelson lost at Pinehurst to the late Payne Stewart, who sank a 15-foot par putt on the final hole to win by one stroke. Stewart died four months later in a plane crash.

In 2002, Mickelson was three strokes behind winner Tiger Woods at Bethpage Black.

In 2004, coming off his first major win at the Masters, Mickelson made a double bogey at the par-3 17th at Shinnecock and lost by two strokes to South African Retief Goosen.

In 2006 at Winged Foot, Mickelson made a double bogey on the final hole and lost by one to Australian Geoff Ogilvy.

In 2009 at rain-soaked Bethpage Black, Mickelson shared second with Ricky Barnes and David Duval, two strokes behind winner Lucas Glover. Mickelson had eagled 13 to match Glover for the lead but made bogeys at 15 and 17.

In 2013, Mickelson was second at Merion, two back of England's Justin Rose. Mickelson, the 54-hole leader, eagled the 10th but bogeys at 13th, 15th and 18th doomed his title bid.

"Tough to swallow after coming so close," Mickelson said in 2013. "This was as good an opportunity as I could ask for and to not get it... it hurts."

- 'Best at older age' -

Now Mickelson is trying to push the age boundaries again at an event that thwarted him even at his youthful peak.

"There's no reason why people can't be their best at an older age," said Mickelson. "After many years of doing something, you have a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge, and getting that out is the challenge.

"You might have to work a bit harder physically or be more disciplined off the golf course, but there's no reason we can't be our best later on in life."

Mickelson figures two things can happen after his epic PGA triumph.

"Either that's going to be my last win," he said, "or I may have found a little something that helps me focus throughout rounds a little bit longer. Maybe I can execute and play golf at the highest level for a nice extended period of time."


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