If Phil Mickelson’s goal over the weekend in the FedEx St. Jude Classic was to finish strong in a tune-up for the US Open on Thursday, it was mission not accomplished. After closing to within three shots of the lead after a delayed third round which he finished Sunday morning, Mickelson could do no better than even par on his final round and an 11th place finish at 6-under par, four shots in back of winner Ben Crane.
In a year when Mickelson would dearly love to add the US Open to his list of major championships to complete his personal grand slam, Lefty still has no top-ten finishes. He has now gone 17 straight starts without a top-ten—the longest stretch in his career. Ever the optimist, he told The Golf Channel after his round that it had been a pretty good week, “I played fairly solidly throughout the four days. The way I drove the ball the last two rounds, I had an opportunity to shoot really low…my iron play was poor and my putting was pathetic.”
Mickelson has three Masters titles, a PGA Championship victory, and a win at last year’s British Open. He had his best chance to win the US Open, coincidentally, 15 years ago at this year’s venue, Pinehurst No.2 in North Carolina. Many will remember that the winner in 1999 was Payne Stewart, who had the presence of mind to grab runner-up Mickelson, amidst his victory celebration on the 18th green, and shout “You’re gonna be a father!” Stewart would die in a plane crash four months later.
This will be a different Pinehurst golf course, however, in 2014. The course was restored two years ago by designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw who, in essence, removed the rough. Instead, players who miss the fairway will be treated to a variety of challenges, including sandy areas, dense foliage and wiregrass bush plants. The areas around the greens will be mown Bermuda grass with a grain which will move the ball away from the hole. The one thing in the players’ favor in this year’s US Open will be much wider fairways than is the norm for the championship.
The 2014 US Open Championship should be one of the best chances yet for Mickelson, despite his seeming failure to accomplish the mission in his tune-up at the St. Jude Classic. He has been driving the ball straight, and that is a must for any US Open. His short game is second to none, and that is important for any player chipping from the tight aprons around the greens at Pinehurst No. 2. For Mickelson, it is simply a matter of sharpening his skills before Thursday, “The game’s not far off because I’m driving the ball very well and putting it in play. My iron game’s gonna have to get a little bit tighter, my short game…I’ll have to work on that, and I’ve got to have a good putting weekend, it’ll come down to that.”
Mickelson’s quest for his first US Open title will begin early on Thursday in the first round. He will tee off at 7:51 a.m. (ET) along with defending champion Justin Rose, and US Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick. They will go off of the No. 10 tee on Thursday and No. 1 on Friday.
Golf Shots is a daily series which provides analysis and commentary on the PGA tour and golf-related topics all year long.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky