"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to compete in the U.S. Open on the course I grew up on in the prime of my career," Mickelson said.
Fred Vuich/SI
Wednesday, June 11, 2008

SAN DIEGO (AP) — This is one U.S. Open where Phil Mickelson should feel right at home.

He grew up in San Diego and played high school matches at Torrey Pines. His photo hangs from the concourse in the San Diego airport, along with the city's other famous athletes.

This major has been anything but friendly, however.

A 34-time winner on the PGA Tour, Mickelson is 0-for-17 in the national championship, and he's tied with Sam Snead for most close calls with four runner-up finishes at the Open.

It's becoming Lefty's torment as much as the Masters was Greg Norman's bugaboo.

"Well, I love it," Mickelson said. "I just haven't gotten the love back."

He's gotten plenty of love from this scenic oceanside, canyon-filled course and its bulging galleries, rewarding his hometown cheering sections by winning the Buick Invitational here three times - but not once since the course was revamped in 2001 for the U.S. Open.

"I haven't putted the greens as well since the redesign," said Mickelson, who has spent countless hours on the golf course with short game coach Dave Pelz to rectify that.

"I should have done it five years ago when I knew the Open was going to be here," Mickelson acknowledged. "But I've been spending a lot of time on the greens to where I feel that not only this week but at future Buicks, I'll know the breaks of the greens and how they'll react, and I should have that local knowledge again on the greens."

One thing he already has back in his health.

A year ago, Mickelson injured his wrist while practicing out of deep rough at Oakmont for the U.S. Open. He had to withdraw from the Memorial, he missed the cut at the U.S. Open and endured what turned out to be a lost summer.

Mickelson has won four tournaments since then, including one in Europe, and he said he's feeling better than ever, save for a bout of what he suspects might have been food poisoning.

"I've had kind of a rough week, but I feel great now," he said.

He looked fine during a practice round Tuesday, when he drew a boisterous gallery armed with constantly-clicking cameras that won't be permitted come Thursday and throngs of autograph hounds, many of whom he accommodated before capping his Sharpie and apologizing to the rest.

"I want to make sure my energy is up this week," Mickelson explained later. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to compete in the U.S. Open on the course I grew up on in the prime of my career. And so I want to give myself every opportunity to play my best golf this week."

So, Mickelson has canceled all his extracurricular activities to focus on the 72 holes he's dreamed of playing in Southern California ever since he was a little boy scurrying across city-owned Balboa Golf Course at dusk with his dad on all-you-can-play rates after school until it was pitch black.

"We'd get stranded at 13 or 14 and hike through the cavern or cliff and climb down it to get back to the car," Mickelson said. "Those are some of the fondest memories I have of my game."

And he'd love nothing more than to make more memories this weekend at Torrey Pines.

"This is a tournament I know and believe I can win," Mickelson said. "I think that this golf course gives me the best opportunity available to do that. Winning this tournament would be something that would help define my career."

Mickelson hasn't deciphered what exactly has kept him from acing golf's toughest test, which this time measures a record 7,643 yards.

"I just think that it's a very penalizing test of golf, always has been," Mickelson said. "What I love about this week is that short game will be a factor. In the past the thick primary rough has gone right up to the edge of the green. Here there's a five-yard layer, let's say, of rough that's tough, but a skillful player around the greens can get the ball close. And I think that having short game be a factor is advantageous to me, gives me a better opportunity to get in contention for the weekend.

"I think this golf course tests not only your long game, certainly the longest golf course we play, but also your short game."

And it will test his nerves, too.

Mickelson is paired with the game's biggest fan favorite, Tiger Woods, who's coming off knee surgery, and Australian Adam Scott, for the first two rounds.

"I think that it's awesome," Mickelson said. "I wish that we had it more. I haven't in the past liked the way the PGA Tour puts us on opposite ends every week. I think it's great that a major championship has us paired together, because usually one end of the tee times has an advantage over the other.

"I've certainly been on the good end a number of times and I'm not complaining, but there are times when you're not on the good end, and for us to be on the same end I think makes it a fair championship. ... And to be paired together is even better."

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