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107TH U.S. OPEN

Haunted by history, Mickelson tries to change his course

June 10, 2007|From the Associated Press

OAKMONT, PA. — The only thing Phil Mickelson ever gets from the U.S. Open is a silver medal.

Four times in the last eight years, Mickelson has come down the stretch with a chance to win the U.S. Open only to get beaten, either by his own untimely mistakes or the clutch shots of opponents. His only significant entry in the U.S. Open record book is being tied with Sam Snead for most runner-up finishes -- four -- without winning.

"Winning the Open has got to be absolutely at the top of the food chain for him to win," former Open champion Johnny Miller said.

Mickelson's next chance comes at Oakmont, which will play host to the U.S. Open for a record eighth time Thursday-Sunday on a classic course outside Pittsburgh, where 5,000 trees have been removed, but the bunkers, greens and high grass make it as tough as ever.

Tiger Woods, who missed the cut last year at Winged Foot for the first time in a major, called it the hardest course he had played. And that was after a practice round with minimal rough and greens that had been covered in snow a week earlier. Vijay Singh suggested a higher winning score than last year at Winged Foot, where Geoff Ogilvy won at 5-over 285.

How tough is Oakmont?

Mickelson injured his left wrist chipping out of the rough during practice sessions over Memorial Day weekend. Tests revealed only inflammation, and Mickelson took a cortisone shot to relieve the discomfort. Doctors have assured him he will be pain free at Oakmont, a course known to inflict its own variety of punishment.

Even before the wrist injury, Mickelson had plenty of scars from the U.S. Open.

There was the broken heart at Pinehurst No. 2 when Payne Stewart holed a 15-foot par putt on the final hole to beat him. There was Bethpage Black, where Woods answered every charge. There was that blunder at Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson found a bunker on the 17th hole and three-putted from five feet for double bogey, finishing two shots behind Retief Goosen.

And there was Winged Foot.

Mickelson's latest brush with the major that has teased him the most came last year when he had a one-shot lead on the 18th hole. Then came a series of bad shots, bad lies and questionable decisions that added up to double bogey and the most crushing loss of all.

"I just can't believe I did that," Mickelson said that afternoon before accepting his silver medal. "I am such an idiot."

Of course, he is not alone.

Snead remains the most famous bridesmaid at the U.S. Open because it was the only major he never won.

His fourth and final runner-up finish came at Oakmont in 1953 when Ben Hogan pulled away over the final 18 holes. Missing from his collection of silver medals is Snead's most famous meltdown, at Philadelphia Country Club in 1939, when he took a triple-bogey 8 on the last hole when a par would have won. He wound up tied for fifth.

There have been others the U.S. Open has haunted over the years.

Colin Montgomerie lost in a playoff at Oakmont in 1994, took bogey on the 71st hole at Congressional three years later to finish one shot behind, and last year took double bogey from the middle of the 18th fairway at Winged Foot to finish one shot behind Ogilvy.

Tom Lehman played in the final group four straight years, from 1995 at Shinnecock Hills through 1998 at The Olympic Club, and never did better than a tie for second. Particularly crushing were Oakland Hills in 1996, when his tee shot took one extra hop and found a bunker on the 18th, and Congressional in 1997, when he hit into the water on the 71st hole.

"Boy, that's a bittersweet experience thinking of the U.S. Open," said Lehman, who did not qualify this year. "I proved I could handle playing with the pressure. But it's a matter of getting one shot or one putt that I needed."

Mickelson could go nuts thinking about one shot or one putt he would like to have back. But he is remarkably resilient, which is how he endured a decade of scrutiny in the majors before winning two Masters and a PGA Championship over three straight years.

Oddly enough, he never would have guessed the U.S. Open is where he would have had so many chances.

And that's what renews his hope.

"I've played well in a tournament that theoretically shouldn't be my strength, shouldn't be the tournament that I play best at," Mickelson said. "I played very well there a number of times, so I feel it's a tournament that I should be able to win, that I can win, but I haven't done it yet. I relish the chance to go back to Oakmont and see if I can fix that."

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