Lawrence Donegan: How 14 years of frustration can lead Mickelson to US Open glory

Our brilliant golf writer looks ahead to the year’s second Major and feels there’s an added incentive for ‘Lefty’ to complete his Grand Slam…

Unhappy anniversary Tiger Woods, who famously – and fabulously – won his last Major championship exactly ten years ago, the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines.

Such was the great man’s genius, and such was his Alpha Dog hold over his fellow professionals, he won his 14th major despite playing with a fractured bone in his leg.

The questioned was begged: if Woods could win a major with just one good leg how many more majors was he going win when restored to good health – four (so equaling Nicklaus’s record of 18), five, six?

How about 10 more? Or how about this? None.

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A decade after Torrey Pines Woods remains stuck on 14 Major wins and heads into this week’s US Open at Shinnecock Hills in the increasingly familiar position of not being a prohibitive favourite, or not even being the favourite at all.

You can have a piece of the Tiger action at 18/1, attractive odds for a player who has only missed one cut on the PGA Tour this season.

That might not be the gilt-edged form of a nailed-on US Open winner but you never know.

“I’ve put the work in,’’ Woods said when asked about his poor putting of late. “So, let’s try and hit a few solid putts this week and see what happens.”

This was hardly a steely declaration that once marked Woods’ pre-tournament press conferences. It used to be, “I’m here to win”. “I’m here to see what happens’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

Still, it is hard to imagine anything more seismic that a Woods victory on Sunday; hard, but not impossible.

While the greatest player of the modern era was holding court with the hacks on Tuesday, the second greatest player of the modern era wasn’t even on the premises at Shinnecock. Phil Mickelson had taken his talents, and his preparation, to another golf course nearby.

He made a brief appearance at the start of the week to fulfill his media duties, declaring that he had seen enough of Shinnecock. He will be back on Thursday morning, when he will tee off alongside Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.

“My goal is to stay in it Thursday, stay in it Friday, and have an opportunity for the weekend,” he said.

“So, I’m not really thinking about winning right now. I’m thinking about getting in it for the weekend.” So far, so bland.

Mickelson, of course, has never won his national Open, leaving himself one leg short of the career Grand Slam his talents clearly deserve. However, he has finished second six times, including at Winged Foot in 2006 when he double bogied the final hole when a par would have secured him a famous win.

People have long assumed that 2006 loss was the most devastating of all for the big left-hander, but those closest to the player point to the 2004 US Open at Shinnecock Hills as the one that rankles most.

Retief Goosen won that year, but Mickelson ended up on the wrong side of one of the most shambolic course set-ups in Major championship history as the tournament organisers lost control of the golf course, making the seventh green unplayable for many of the competitors.

Mickelson has never said this cost him the victory, although he came close to doing so this week.

“On the Saturday in 2004, the barometer for watering the 7th green was did anybody make double or triple? So, if nobody double or triple bogeyed in the group in front of you, the green did not get water. If your group made a double or triple, the green got water for the group behind you,’’ he explained.

“It bothers me, given that we put so much into this tournament and the dreams and the hopes. And to have it left to something like that is disappointing.”

Some interpreted these comments as the thoughts of a bitter man, but an alternative view is that they were more a statement of intent; that here was Mickelson’s motivation for one last, great swing at history.

He is 47 years old now and surely in the twilight of a wonderful career. Yet his form is good enough to have lifted him into one of the eight automatic selection spots for the USA Ryder Cup team later this year.

Shinnecock Hills offers as a cerebral challenge and no-one on the PGA Tour is more cerebral than Mickelson. It is made for him, a test to match his glorious imagination.

In other words, he is a legitimate contender in usual circumstances. But, there is another element to consider, that of a player out to right an injustice.

If Mickelson believes the 2004 US Open was unfairly taken away from him, then what greater motivation could he have?

History is one thing, but the thought of righting a wrong is quite another. In the rarefied world of top class sport, everybody is looking for an edge.

No-one will have a bigger edge than Mickelson. If he makes it work, look out.

A Tiger Woods victory would hit the world of golf like an earthquake, but a win from big Phil would move a few mountains too.

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