Optimistic Mickelson not ceding anything to closing US Open window

The perpetually upbeat Phil Mickelson, who turns 44 on Monday, isn't conceding defeat to his quest of capturing the U.S. Open title -- the only major championship to elude him over the last three decades.

For the week at Pinehurst, Phil Mickelson (7-over par) ranked above the U.S. Open field in Greens In Regulation (61 percent) and Sand Saves (60 percent) -- but only connected on 32 of 56 fairways (below the field average).

Jason Getz / USA TODAY Sports


Phil Mickelson has everything a past, present or future golfer could ever want from a career that involves the simple, but somehow complicated act of striking a ball that lies motionless on the ground (or tee).

Five major championships. A beautiful wife and family. Thousands of loyal, adoring fans. Millions of dollars in the bank. A place in the World Golf Hall of Fame. More than 50 professional victories. A healthy portfolio of blue-chip corporate sponsors ... and the cachet to launch the charitable program or philanthropic organization of his choosing (like the advancement of math/sciences within youth-educational curriculums).

And yet, one has to empathize with Mickelson's annual quest to claim the only golf title to elude him over the last three decades: The US Open championship.

Day 4 at the Open was drama-free for Mickelson, contention-wise, the dual result of trailing leader Martin Kaymer by 13 shots entering the day and never breaking 70 at the daunting Pinehurst No. 2 course.

But Sunday's round (2-over-par 72) might have served a purpose, giving Mickelson 18 pressure-free holes to reflect on all the success he's had at previous US Opens (10 top-10 and six second-place finishes) ... and ponder what the future holds at the most demanding tournament in professional golf.

"I believe in the next five years, I'm going to have three or four really good chances, and I do believe I will get (a US Open victory). I'm not upset or disappointed, I will have more chances," said Mickelson, who finished at 7 over for the tournament.

"And ... given the way I have been playing heading into this tournament, it was really a long shot. I've got to get some momentum and get my game sharp for me to really have a chance at winning, and I'm going to spend the next five, six weeks seeing if I can get that to get it going here to finish the year strong."

Mickelson turns 44 on Monday. Thankfully, in golf, that is not an age to ponder retirement or cut back one's PGA Tour workload or even dream a little smaller, in terms of contending for major championships.

That aside, it's worth noting Hale Irwin stands as the oldest US Open champion (1990) in the tournament's illustrious history -- at 45 years and 15 days.

Putting that into context, if Mickelson should capture next year's US Open title (June 18-21 at Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place, Wash.), he would have eclipsed Irwin's age-old (or old-age) record by just 10 days.

In other words, anything he accomplishes at the US Open from this point forward will essentially be precedent-setting history. And there are both positives and negatives to draw from that.

"I thought that I had a great game plan, I was ready to play, and sometimes it just doesn't click. It just doesn't come together," said Mickelson, who tallied three birdies, three bogeys, 10 pars and one double bogey on Sunday.

"It's one thing to have a great game plan, but you have to execute, you got to hit some shots, make some putts, and I threw too many shots away the first two rounds to really have a good chance."

Even if the perpetually optimistic Mickelson had doubts about his viability for future US Open success, he certainly wouldn't make those thoughts public.

He's still one of the best ball-strikers on the PGA Tour, and he's still one of the game's most creative shot-makers around the green -- a skill set that's perfectly in tune to the rigors of surviving (read: winning) a US Open.

"(Sunday) wasn't disappointing. It was a fun week. ... I just loved the golf course, the setup, how it played, how fair it was," said Mickelson, who was trumped by his Sunday playing partner (Brendon Todd -- 1 under). "What surprised me is how pure and perfect the greens were. I thought with this heat, bent grass, I just didn't think they would be as perfect as they are. They're just amazing.

"You get the ball on line and they go in every time just like Augusta (home of The Masters), you know the last four or five feet if they're going in. They were just pristine."