PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — There was no golf ball caroming off a hospitality tent, no opponent’s up-and-down nipping him at the tape. Phil Mickelson’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach lacked the calamity of his previous journeys, save for a tee shot on the 71st hole hitting a volunteer in the chest. Mickelson saved par from there.
But the 110th U.S. Open expired with Mickelson missing the trophy again, ending his bid for a first national championship, a fifth major title and the Grand Slam, and the chance to supplant Tiger Woods as the No. 1 player in the world.
That’s a mouthful. Mickelson knew that a heavy burden was resting on his shoulders, even if he had spent weeks playing it down. With four less shots on his scorecard, that landslide of history would have been his.
“I had opportunities,” Mickelson said. “All I had to do was shoot even par on the back, and I’m in a playoff.”
Mickelson’s final-round 73 left him three shots behind the winner, Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, and in a tie for fourth with Woods. It also left him without the championship that has teased and tempted him for two decades.
“I wanted to win,” Mickelson said. “I’m glad it wasn’t a second.”
He already has five of those — at Pinehurst No. 2, Bethpage Black, Shinnecock Hills, Winged Foot, Bethpage again — more than anyone else. At Pebble Beach, where Mickelson has played some of his best golf through the years, he sent a jolt through the championship with a second-round 66, only to stall with a pair of 73s on the weekend.
On Sunday, dressed in a black shirt and white pinstriped pants and playing alongside Ernie Els, Mickelson set off for the final round trailing by seven shots. After a birdie at the first — and a collapse by the leader Dustin Johnson — he was thinking big. Mickelson saw the first seven holes as scoring opportunities. Instead, he made no birdies after the first hole and bogeyed Nos. 10, 14 and 16.
“Other than the first six or seven holes, it just wasn’t there,” Mickelson said. “I had a 15-foot eagle putt on 4, and I make par. That was frustrating. I have a 5-iron into [the par-5 sixth], and I make par. That was frustrating, letting those strokes go. It got progressively tougher. The pin placements got progressively more difficult, and there just [weren’t] the opportunities.”
Unlike other near-misses — at Winged Foot in particular — Mickelson was more clinical than emotional as he spoke after the championship. While another chance to win the Open had passed, Mickelson doffed his cap to Pebble’s toughness and prepared to move on.
One year ago, after his wife, Amy, and mother, Mary, were diagnosed with breast cancer, Mickelson fought gamely at the United States Open at Bethpage Black. Even as he fell to Lucas Glover, his play electrified the New York faithful.
At Pebble, several hours north of his boyhood San Diego home, Mickelson was the gallery favorite, at least until Woods put in a strong challenge with his Saturday 66.
Mickelson couldn’t duplicate the magic he had in April, when he won his third green jacket by digging eagles and birdies out of the Augusta National soil.
The U.S. Open doesn’t do magic. It does survival. It also does frustration, a subject in which Mickelson needs no instruction.