Nick Bonfield discusses Phil Mickelson's chances of victory in the 2014 US Open at Pinehurst
Phil Mickelson will forever be remembered as one of the most prolific, popular and flamboyant golfers of all time, and someone who boasts a major-winning record only superseded in the modern generation by one player, Tiger Woods – a man justifiably deemed my many to be the greatest golfer that’s ever lived.
But for Phil, there is still one major slight on an otherwise exemplary record, and something you suspect he’ll ponder for the rest of his days should he fail to capture the title that’s evaded him agonisingly over the years: US Open success.
For all the trend-setting, record-breaking achievements Phil’s registered since turning professional in 1992, there’s one record the patriotic American will be desperate to remove from his resume before curtains close on a glittering career – the fact he’s notched more runner-up finishes in the US Open than any other golfer.
His sporting yet disconsolate rhetoric following Justin Rose’s victory last year was proof, in any was needed, that Mickelson would give anything to claim his national title.
Despite all he’s achieved, you sense a US Open victory would mean more to him than any other triumph – quite a statement when you consider his emotional, long-overdue victory in the 2004 Masters and conquering of Muirfield at the Open in 2013, a tournament he’d previously believed to be beyond his grasp.
But sadly for Mickelson fans, this year seems unlikely to be the year. I remain hopeful his indifferent start to the season is only a temporary concern – and not symptomatic of wider problems signalling the start of his decline from the top tier – but I can’t see him staging a challenge at Pinehurst.
Firstly, he’s currently being investigated by the FBI in a matter relating to insider trading. Despite his proclamation of innocence, it’s not something you want looming over you. Still, it may be that he finds solace on the golf course, something that aided Rory McIlroy in winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth following his split from Caroline Wozniacki two days before the start of the tournament.
For me, his current form is a more prevalent concern. Mickelson hasn’t recorded a top 10 on the PGA Tour all season, and his statistics make for discouraging reading.
This year, he ranks outside the top 100 in both Total Driving and Strokes Gained Putting – not a combination that will yield success at a US Open.
Still, the nature of Pinehurst no.2 – most notably the less penal rough – should play into Lefty’s hands. What’s more, Mickelson is a man made to defy convention, someone who simply doesn’t adhere to a formula and a golfer who can produce his very best when least expected – the sign of a true talent.
I still don’t think we’ll see the 43-year-old hosting the US Open trophy aloft, but I’d love to be proved wrong. Mickelson is a class act, both on and off the course, and victory would put the finishing touches to a truly remarkable career.