Phil Mickelson's U.S. Open record is a model of staggering consistency: 20 starts, nine top-10s, five second-places. Just one thing is missing, of course: a win. And so, as another Open rolls around, Mickelson will be forced to answer the now-perennial question: Is this the year he finally breaks through?
Mickelson has an iffy record in three pro starts at Congressional, finishing tied for 43rd at the 1997 U.S. Open there and tied for 29th at the 2005 Booz Allen Classic. In his last start at the D.C.- area course, the 2007 AT&T National, Mickelson missed the cut.
More encouraging, however, is his Open record on the East Coast, where he has logged all five of his runner-up finishes and cultivated a strong bond with the lively, pro-Lefty galleries. (Mickelson's 2005 PGA win also came in the East, at Baltusrol, in New Jersey.)
To better understand Mickelson's Open drought, we examined his five nearest Open-misses and how his game compared to the winners' in three key categories. The takeaway: When Lefty's driver has let him down, his putter has picked him up, but he needs to get them both clicking at once.
Should Phil need a little more help, we've provided that, too – identifying five skills he needs to improve to make this Father's Day a winning one.
TO-DO LIST: Five screws Lefty must tighten to win
1. Hit More Fairways
This facet of the game isn't as vital as it once was, thanks to Mike Davis of the USGA introducing graduated rough. But Mickelson has hit as many or more fairways than the winner in just three of his nine top-10s. Low point: He hit only two fairways, an alarmingly low number even for him, in round four at Winged Foot in '06.
PHIL SPEAKS (1999): "It will be interesting to see if I'm able to break through when I get in this situation again. And it will be interesting to see how long it takes me to get back in this situation."
2. Putt Better
Payne Stewart one-putted his last three holes in '99. Retief Goosen one-putted eight of the first 10 holes in his Monday playoff against Mark Brooks at the '01 Open at Southern Hills, and one-putted 11 greens, including the last six, at the '04 Open at Shinnecock. Mickelson hasn't conjured such one-putt wizardry in the Sunday heat.
3. Limit Doubles
Of the nine Opens in which he's finished in the top 10, Mickelson has only once managed to go all four rounds without making a double-bogey, at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999. In those same nine starts, Mickelson never made fewer doubles than the winner. Worst hole: the par-5 16th at Shinnecock, where in '95 he went 7-6-6-7 while finishing T4. Corey Pavin played the hole 4-4-5-5 – an eight-shot difference. Pavin beat Mickelson by four.
PHIL SPEAKS (2006): "I just can't believe that I did that. I am such an idiot. I just couldn't hit a fairway all day."
4. Close Better
Mickelson has shot only one final round in the 60s in 20 starts, a 68 at Torrey Pines in '08, ironically one of his worst Opens (T18). He's averaged 71.9 strokes per final round in his top-10s – respectable, but not great.
5. Improve Timing
Mickelson waited until the 72nd hole to make his only double in '06 (he hit driver off the tee in part because he wasn't carrying a 3-wood), and he three-putted from eight feet to double the 71st hole in '04 (his sand shot wound up above the hole, and his first putt may or may not have been blown off line by the wind). In '09 Lucas Glover doubled his first hole on Thursday and the par-4 7th in round three and still won. Moral: Screw up early so you can recover.
PHIL SPEAKS (2009): "Certainly I'm disappointed, but now that it's over I've got more important things going on, and… oh, well."