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The New Old Phil In Pursuit Of Career Slam

For so many years, the overriding question regarding Phil Mickelson was: What exactly should we make of him? Mickelson had so much: The smile, the personality, the imagination, the short game, the power and the bravado. His gift was flamboyant golf, the big swing and, occasionally, the big miss. There was a sense that for all he had done, he could have won more. He got in his own way, he over-thought the situation like choosing to take the driver out of his bag for the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, the longest course in major-championship history. Here we are again with the same question regarding Mickelson: What should we make of him now? As the thrill of Mickelson’s one-for-the-ages victory at the Open Championship settles in, Mickelson has redefined his place in the game. He belongs in the same locker room as the game’s best, alongside the Trevinos and Watsons. Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Bobby Jones are in their own exclusive club but Mickelson belongs with the other masters. Maybe he belonged there before Muirfield because he’s done his work in the Woods era but he reinforced it by winning the Open Championship, shredding the notion that he didn’t have the discipline to win when the game is played as much on the ground as in the air. Years ago, we got the Mickelson manifesto at the Players Championship, a soliloquy about how he had to be true to himself on the golf course and if his daring and sometimes reckless play kept him from winning major championships, he could live with that. It was defiant and defensive as the pressure on him mounted to win that elusive first major championship. All these years later, Mickelson has modified his approach without sacrificing his soul. He won his first Masters by throttling back off the tee, fighting off the temptation to maul every tee shot. He won at Muirfield without a driver in the bag, not tempting the quirky fates of a firm, fast links, and he did it with supreme confidence. At age 43, Mickelson is as good or better than ever. “We joke that when he’s sixtysomething, he’s going to be on that putting green at Augusta thinking he has a chance,” Mickelson’s caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, said. Phil may not see the humor – and he’s a funny guy. One great challenge remains. Winning the U.S. Open. Mickelson’s best chance going forward will come next June at Pinehurst, where he finished second to Payne Stewart in 1999. Mickelson was a putt away from a playoff with Stewart only to find his face being squeezed by the man who beat him, telling him to go home and be a father for the first time and enjoy all that came with it. Mickelson did that and had his family – wife Amy and all three children – with him when he won the Scottish Open two weeks ago and the Open Championship last week, conquering the country. Other than perhaps Mickelson himself – and he’ll admit to having doubts – few thought he could win the Open Championship. The U.S. Open is another matter entirely. It has teased and tormented him. Six times Mickelson has finished second in the U.S. Open. Six times he was close enough to think about what could have happened. Stewart made three long putts over the last three holes to nip him by a stroke at Pinehurst in ’99. A late three-putt hurt him at Shinnecock in 2004. We all know what happened at Winged Foot in 2006. Merion last month did it to him again. Mickelson, who flamed out at the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst when the course setup wasn’t anything like it will be next year, may be destined to never win his national championship. Sam Snead won 82 times but never a U.S. Open. Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson never won a PGA Championship. A student of golf history, Mickelson understands that winning the U.S. Open will do more than end his personal frustration.


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