PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Phil Mickelson is the only player with a chance to win the Grand Slam after his stirring victory in April when he captured his third Masters title and fourth major championship. But the U.S. Open has been a gauntlet for Lefty; he's finished second a record five times, including last year at Bethpage State Park's Black Course.
Adding to the challenge this year is that Mickelson crosses a milestone, turning 40 on Wednesday. A lot of factors play into the outcome of a national championship, but age isn't one of them, Mickelson thinks. But, then, he did have a little trouble adding up his professional seasons.
"When I was first out on tour and Nicklaus won the Masters at 46 it just seemed like, oh, my goodness, how difficult that would be for anybody at 46," said Mickelson, who made his professional debut at Pebble Beach at the 1992 U.S. Open -- six years after Nicklaus won his sixth green jacket and the last of his 18 professional majors.
But let's let him go. He's rolling. "Or [how about] when he [Nicklaus] won the U.S. Open in 1980 at 40, it was like, oh, man this is incredible. But over time we've seen â¿¿â¿¿ we see players like Vijay Singh win nine times in his mid to late 40s in one year. And we see Kenny Perry who is 49, make the Ryder Cup team and have one of the best years of his career last year. And it seems as though players are playing much better golf in their 40s."
Mickelson hopes that's the case. He's confident it can be the case. "I look at where I was at when I was 30, you asked the question, where was my game at 30, and I see a phenomenal difference between where I was at 30 and where I am today," he said. "And I look six years ago when I won the Masters for the first time where my game was at. And even as early as a year ago I see a big difference. And so I feel like even though I'm 40 I'm playing some of my best golf."
Asked in what areas his game was better, Mickelson ticked off a long list, almost without taking a breath: "Distance control, variety of shots into greens, short irons, being able to take spin off, landing the ball consistently at the right yardage, short game more consistent, putting fast greens better, reading greens better, rolling it better, certainly driving it better, when you look at each area."
-- Dave Shedloski