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One divot on your legend application, Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson has three Masters titles in his bag but five second-place finishes at the elusive U.S. Open.

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Phil Mickelson has three Masters titles in his bag but five second-place finishes at the elusive U.S. Open.

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — The application seems to be in excellent shape.

We can see plenty of victories. We see a ton of money. We see some wonderful memories and a fair number of big moments. All in all, your application to be considered a golf legend is quite impressive.

Just one final question, Mr. Mickelson:

What about the U.S. Open?

Surely, you acknowledge the importance of winning such a prestigious tournament. This isn't the Waste Management Phoenix Open or the John Deere Classic. You have to admit it is a sizable hole on your resume.

"You could say that about any player about some tournament. Nicklaus never won in Canada. I mean, come on," you say. "We could talk about Arnold not winning a PGA. I'd rather talk about the four Masters he won, or the win he had at Cherry Hills or what he did at Birkdale. He's done so many great things, I like to look at that.

"Sure, the pessimist is going to look at all the things he hasn't done, or I haven't done. But I don't choose to look at my career or anybody else's that way."

Fair enough. Fair enough.

And we must agree your career is better than most. Looking at this application, we can see you are 12th on the all-time list of PGA Tour victories with 38. And the only golfers to have won more than your three Masters are Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer.

With your PGA Championship title in 2005, you are even halfway to a career grand slam.

Very impressive, indeed.

But, if we may just inquire further, you have been close to winning the U.S. Open. You have been close quite a lot. If these numbers are correct, you have finished second a record five times.

Most golfers dream of having a chance to win the U.S. Open on a Sunday afternoon, and you have been in that position five times in the past 11 years. My goodness, you were just a few hundred yards from the clubhouse a few times.

In 1999 you had a one-stroke lead with three holes to play. In 2004 you had a one-stroke lead with two to play. In 2009 you were tied for the lead with four to play. And I'm sure you remember 2006 when you had a lead on No. 18 and lost it with a double bogey.

Ernie Els, who was a wonderful choice as a reference by the way, pointed out that the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 2006 was really the only one you blew. Unfortunately, around these offices, we refer to those kind of references as revisionist history. The truth is, you have had some very good chances to win and you have not closed the deal.

It's one thing to be a runnerup to Payne Stewart, like you were at Pinehurst. He had already won a couple of majors, and he hit a big putt on No. 18 to finish it off. And there is never any shame to finishing second to Woods, as you did at Bethpage in 2002.

But Geoff Ogilvy? Lucas Glover?

Really?

"I just know in this tournament I've been able to get myself in contention and give myself opportunities to win," you say.

Quite true. Quite true.

But Phil — may we call you Phil? — you did turn 40 this week. And that's certainly not ancient. You seem to be exercising regularly and, as an aside, we haven't heard anyone shout anything derogatory about the size of your bosom in quite some time.

Still, it is unusual for a man of your age to win such a grand tournament. In the past 20 years, if memory serves correct, only five players over the age of 40 have won a major. And the last time it happened in the U.S. Open was Stewart's victory in 1999.

So is it really plausible for you to still win a U.S. Open?

"When I was first went out on tour and Nicklaus won the Masters at 46, it just seemed like, 'Oh my goodness, how difficult that would be.' Or when he won the U.S. Open at 40, it was like, 'Oh man, this is incredible,' " you say. "But over time we've seen players like Vijay Singh win nine times in his mid to late 40s in one year. And we see Kenny Perry, who is 49, make the Ryder Cup team.

"I see a phenomenal difference between where I was at 30 and where I am today. And I look six years ago, when I won the Masters for the first time, where my game was at. And even as early as a year ago, I see a big difference. And so I feel like even though I'm 40, I'm playing some of my best golf."

And that is certainly good to hear.

So, yes, we will certainly ponder your application. You have many qualities we consider essential for a golf legend. You have the skills. You have the charisma. You have the makings of a truly impressive resume.

But should you win a U.S. Open?

You will have it all.

John Romano can be reached at (727) 893-8811.

U.S. Open

When/where: Today-Sunday; Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif.

Course: Par 71, 7,040 yards

Field: 156 players (145 pros, 11 amateurs)

Purse: $7.5 million ($1.35 million winner's share)

Defending champ: Lucas Glover

Television: Today and Friday, 1-3 p.m., ESPN; 3-5, Ch. 8.; 5-10 ESPN. Saturday, 4:30-11 p.m., Ch. 8. Sunday, 3-9 p.m., Ch. 8

Watch For: An elder, a heart transplant recipient, a Zephyrhills transplant, and Tiger. 2C

One divot on your legend application, Phil Mickelson 06/16/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 17, 2010 7:04am]
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