CROMWELL, Conn. – Phil Mickelson turned 49 years old on Sunday at Pebble Beach, where he was serenaded with “Happy Birthday” all around the Monterey Peninsula. He also left disappointed again, though, failing to win an elusive first U.S. Open to complete the career Grand Slam after finishing in a tie for 52nd.
A few days removed from the festivities, the reality of another missed opportunity seemed to have sunk in.
“I really don’t have many more chances,” Mickelson said Wednesday from the Travelers Championship, where he is playing for the first time in 16 years. “I probably have to come to the realization that I’m not going to win a U.S. Open.”
Which begs the question, where does Mickelson go from here?
In a literal sense, he is back at TPC River Highlands, where he won in 2001 and 2002. Next, he’ll play the 3M Championship in Minnesota in two weeks before making his way to Northern Ireland for next month's Open at Portrush.
In a larger sense, the answer is much more murky.
Mickelson, who has played in 26 U.S. Opens and finished runner-up a record six times, won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier this year, and following 43-year-old Tiger Woods’ victory at the Masters in April, it’s easy to think each will continue to contend in major championships this year and beyond.
But Woods hasn’t looked the same since his victory at Augusta National and Mickelson, a year away from being eligible for PGA Tour Champions, has struggled to find consistency with four missed cuts in his last seven stroke-play starts on the PGA Tour.
Entertaining? Always. A legitimate threat to win another major?
Phil-philes will argue his last, best chance could come at next year’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot, where he famously kicked away a chance in 2006. History, though, suggests otherwise -- the oldest player to win a U.S. Open was Hale Irwin, who was 45 when he hoisted the trophy at Medinah.
Still, Mickelson, already a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame with 44 victories on tour (ninth-best all-time) and five career majors, isn’t giving up total hope.
“When I do play well, I’m able to play at a comparable level to what I played like at the height of my career and I’m able to pick off wins,” he said. “I’m just not having as many opportunities. That’s been the hardest thing for me is having the energy levels and recovering and being focused for each shot in four rounds.
“But I’m not going to stop trying. You never know.”