Tuesday 23 July 2019

Heartbreak goes on with age set to dash Lefty's Open dream

Mickelson is in august company but grand slam hopes fade while Lowry suffers more Major frustration, writes Brian Keogh

Centre of attention: Phil Mickelson greets supporters during the third round of the US Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Photo: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports
Centre of attention: Phil Mickelson greets supporters during the third round of the US Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Photo: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

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 give it hand it to the USGA for doing a great setup," Mickelson said after taking an eight on the 18th in a third round 75. "It's the best I've ever seen. And it's identifying the best players. It's making the players the story."

As Shane Lowry birdied the 17th and 18th to finish provisionally tied 27th on one-under par, Mickelson posted a one-over 72 to end another fruitless US Open quest on four-over par.

"It's not like I'm going to stop trying," Mickelson said. "I enjoy the challenge. But I thought this was a really good chance for me. I just didn't putt my best, I didn't chip my best.

"I actually played okay tee to green. I hit a lot of good shots. And my short game was not what it usually is and hasn't been this year.

"So I'm going to work on that a little bit. I feel like my game has been coming around and I want to finish off this summer."

Turning his attention to The Open, he added: "I played Portrush one time with my dad and it was a special, fun golf course.

"It's been a while so I don't remember a lot of the details and subtleties of it."

Lowry was left to wonder what might have been had he not started his last two majors with rounds of 75.

"I wouldn't read too much into that," he said after following an excellent 69 alongside Gary Woodland on Friday with a 70 on Saturday and a 69 last night.

He was joint 33rd through 54 holes and while he missed a three footer for par at the third he birdied the par-five sixth, made two from 12 feet at the seventh and hit a 236-yard approach to 13 feet at the ninth to turn in 33.

Poor drives led to bogeys at the 10th and 11th, but he finished strongly, making two from almost 60 feet at there 17th before two-putting the last from 40 feet.

It was another strong major championship performance from Lowry and a good week for the USGA who were slammed by Mickelson in the build-up for their recent errors.

"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 last year when conditions got out of hand.

With six runner-up finishes in the US Open on his resumé, Mickelson has endured more heartbreak that most in 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, time has all but run out for Philip Alfred Mickelson.

"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 Champions 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.

Plugged

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."

He will have a shot at redemption next June but given his age and the strength in depth in golf these days, that ship may have sailed.

Tiger Woods looked set to join him in a day of frustration yesterday as he found himself four over par for his round after six holes and heading dramatically in the wrong direction.

However, he showed his famous powers of resilience and recovery to battle back with back-to-back birdies and four more on the back nine gave him a round of 69 - his best of the week - to finish one shot ahead of Lowry.

Like Mickelson, Woods praised the set up of the course while looking forward to the challenge of Portrush.

"It was fantastic this week. The course could be had or you could get hammered," said Woods. "I haven't played Portrush but I'll get there early and do my homework."

Unlike Mickelson in Major championships, it seems Woods still might have the time to find a few more answers.

Irish Independent

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