Phil’s California dream vanishes at Open

Mickelson shot 68 on Sunday.
John Biever/SI

In the opening round of this 108th U.S. Open, Amy Mickelson was among the thousands of spectators trailing her husband, Phil, the native son, who is as firmly rooted to Torrey Pines as the ancient trees that dot the course.

“This was literally his childhood dream,” she said, pausing for a moment as the gallery rushed by. “He used to dream about winning the Masters and winning a U.S. Open in San Diego.”

Of course, dreams don’t always come true, not even in California. Not even on a golf course that Mickelson knows better than the Torrey Pines superintendent. And not even with the will of this scenic seaside city firmly behind him.

It all ended quietly with a three-under 68 Sunday afternoon, Mickelson’s best round of the week and an eight-stroke improvement from his third round, but not good enough to keep the dream alive.

“It didn’t feel far off,” Mickelson said after the round. “I felt like I was close the whole week and just a fraction where balls were kicking in the bunkers or just going in the rough where I had a tough play.”

The irony is that on a course on which Mickelson has looked so comfortable, winning three times professionally, he rarely looked comfortable this week. On Saturday on the ripe-for-the-taking par-5 13th, Mickelson’s sterling wedge game failed him, and he made a 9, which, when paired with his 5 from Friday, was eight shots worse than Woods’ two-round total for the same hole.

In the name of accuracy, Mickelson ditched his driver in the first two rounds, then hit only six fairways each day. His sans-driver strategy was the center of much debate. If you’re going to be wild, why not be long? “Distance wasn’t the problem,” said Mickelson, whose drives averaged 283 yards in the first two rounds. “It was getting it into play.”

Mickelson reintroduced his driver in the third and fourth rounds because he said shorter approach shots would give him a better chance at making birdies and catching the leaders. This Open, he added, won’t be the last time he leaves the big stick in the bin.

“I have actually been looking at the schedule, and there’s one or two tournaments that I’ll probably go driverless again,” he said. “If sacrificing 20, 25 yards off the tee will get me into play more, I’m going to do that. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it into play more [this week].”

Mickelson will take three weeks off to finesse his game, then cross the Atlantic for the Scottish and British Opens in mid-July, with an eye on the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Ryder Cup in September. “I want to get my game sharp for that,” Mickelson said. “I think today’s score was evident that [my game] is not that far off. But I just got to put it all together.”