San Diego – The best drive of the afternoon Saturday for Phil Mickelson was his last one, when he slipped into a Lexus SUV and exited Torrey Pines Golf Course and headed for his home in nearby Rancho Santa Fe.
Another desperate day in the U.S. Open turned into another disappointing finish for the No. 2 player in the world. Playing on a course on which he grew up, in front of hometown fans, Mickelson could find neither magic nor momentum and crashed to 5-over-par 76 that finished for another year his hopes of winning the major championship that means the most to him.
“This is something I wanted a lot, and I just didn’t play well this week,” said Mickelson, who turns 38 on Monday, after he completed 54 holes at Torrey South in 9-over 222.
A former U.S. Amateur champion, Mickelson had been pointing towards this Open to fill the void in his impressive resume after four finishing runner-up finishes, including that heartbreaking 2006 collapse at Winged Foot when he double-bogeyed the 72nd hole to lose by a stroke to Geoff Ogilvy.
This time, the disaster struck much earlier, at the unlucky par-5 13th that was a birdie hole for much of the field (Tiger Woods has eagled it twice), but an albatross to the talented lefty.
Finally deciding that he needed to put the driver in his bag, Mickelson set out Saturday to make up a bit of ground. His swing wouldn’t cooperate.
Already one over par, he went from disgusted to downtrodden – and for all intents and purposes defeated – on the 13th, which was playing just 536 yards on Saturday. Mickelson imploded with a quadruple bogey-9. He drove into the rough and was forced to lay up. He got too cute with his L-wedge on the third shot to the front hole location and the ball spun back to his feet. It took three more tries from about 80 yards before his ball stayed on the green. He compounded those errors by three-putting.
“I've had a nine on 13 (before). I was eight years old, but I have had a nine there,” he said.
At least he didn’t lose his sense of humor. Or his perspective.
“It was really one hole that hurt the round. Otherwise I was, what, 1-over for the day and just played OK,” he said. “So it wasn't bad. If I make birdie there, I shoot even par for the day and I would be within striking distance for tomorrow.
“Unfortunately, it happens. It sucks, but it happens.”
The par-3 eighth hole proved a microcosm of Mickelson’s overall lack of focus and intensity, not to mention his plain bad luck.
With the hole playing just 181 yards, the left-hander tried to cut an 8-iron into the right hole location, but he double-crossed and flipped his tee shot long and left of the putting green.
“A terrible swing,” he said flatly, honestly and with noted resignation in his voice, as if there had been too many of those, which, obviously, there were.
After sizing up his second for what seemed like an inordinate amount of time, Mickelson’s chip shot somehow checked up well short of the flagstick. He marked hurriedly and pitched the ball to his caddie, Jim Mackay, but missed him wide, and the ball scooted off the green. Mackay had to backtrack to retrieve it. Mickelson just rolled his eyes in frustration at not being able to execute even the simplest tasks.
And so it went. And so went his hopes. The Open wound will have to wait another year to heal. He already was looking ahead, not even thinking about next month’s British Open.
“I think it's an exciting Open. I'm certainly disappointed that I'm not in the mix right now,” Mickelson said. “That was the goal. So I'm going to come out tomorrow, enjoy my final round. And Bethpage (site of the 2009 U.S. Open) is one of the best places ever ‑‑ one of the best memories in the game of golf I've ever had. I get to go back there next year for the U.S. Open. So I'm excited about the chance to try to break through and win my first U.S. Open there.”
Mickelson finished second behind Woods at the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage.
Maybe the vibes will be better on the other coast, away from home, away from all the pressure and expectations. Maybe.