Fresh off news he was being investigated by federal authorities for fishy stock trading, golfer Phil Mickelson has now begun his quest for the major he’s yet to accomplish: winning the U.S. Open.
The left-handed gent’ has garnered three green jackets (Masters), one British Open championship, and one PGA championship – a total of five major championships. With a win at this year’s U.S. Open, Mickelson will become just the fifth player to complete golf’s grand slam, which is an outstanding achievement to say the least.
Mickelson’s attempts at the U.S. Open have been well-documented, considering he’s finished runner-up a whopping six times. Including his epic meltdown at Winged Foot in 2006, in which he hit a hospitality tent on the final hole and double-bogeyed to give Geoff Ogilvy the win. And just last year, Mickelson went into the final round with the lead, only to lose by two to Justin Rose, who shot a score of 70.
This year, Mickelson returns to Pinehurst No. 2, where, as you probably guessed, was the start of his U.S. Open woes.
Back in 1999 at Pinehurst No. 2, with a bogey on the 16th hole Mickelson lost his lead to the late Payne Stewart. Both of them ended up having birdie putts on hole No. 17, but it was Stewart who sunk his, and Mickelson who didn’t. While it was surely a valiant effort at a major championship and a sign of things to come for Mickelson, nobody would’ve probably anticipated him finishing second five times thereafter.
Mickelson, needless to say, is desperately trying to get the U.S. Open monkey off his back. However, it remains to be seen if he can maintain his focus, given the allegations stemming from illicit insider trading surfaced in late May.
During a press conference addressing the situation, Mickelson was adamant that he had “done absolutely nothing wrong,” and that he’s “cooperated with the government” in the investigation and “will continue to do so.” Mickelson did not appear at all worried, and maintained that he was innocent of all the hoopla. And because he remained calm, cool, and collected, we have to believe Mickelson isn’t too worried about it.
Matter of fact, Thursday morning, Mickelson was reportedly cleared in one investigation surrounding stock trading in shares of Clorox – per ESPN.com via the New York Times. So, there’s that. And although there’s still another ongoing search into if Mickelson in fact collected $1 million due to illegal timely transactions with Dean Foods stock, we have to think the news regarding his involvement in the other case was enough to ease his mind – if it was at all circling.
Nonetheless, Mickelson has a reasonable chance at taking home his first U.S. Open title. The key for him will be staying out of trouble before he gets to the putting surface. Lefty is a tremendous putter, and an even better chipper, but what derails him is his long game more than his short. And at Pinehurst No. 2, the object is to NOT have the ball stray away from the fairway, because sand, brush, and just difficult hazards await “Lefty” should he fail to land his ball safely.
Despite outsiders predicting him to have an easier chance of winning because Tiger Woods isn’t competing, they clearly don’t see the talent that’s out in the field. Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler, last year’s champ Rose – I can go on-and-on. But for Mickelson, what he’s going to benefit off of is leads will endlessly change. The odds of a player double-bogeying are extremely high.
Ultimately, if Mickelson can just hold his own until the final day, and be up their in the top-5, he’s got a great chance of taking it. Not only would Mickelson bag his first U.S. Open, but it would vault him up into a tie for 12th on the all-time major championships list with Nick Faldo and Lee Trevino. The next men to catch after, oh, just a few fellas by the name of Arnold Palmer, Bobby Jones, and Sam Snead. That’s good company.
So far, after round one, Mickelson is five shots off the pace at even par (70). However, as I mentioned earlier, that differential will shrink quickly. Not a bad start, but he’ll need a slightly better day Friday.
Can Phil break through the U.S. Open threshold? We shall see.