Backspin: Mickelson's major prep goes as planned

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Harris English is headed to the Masters after getting his first career win Sunday at the FedEx St. Jude Classic (more on that later), while Phil Mickelson has his sights set on Merion Golf Club and the U.S. Open.

“My iron play was very good this week,” said Mickelson, who finished second to English and nearly put some extra pressure on him by almost holing out from the fairway on the final hole. All that was missing was his caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, tending the flag.

“I felt like I progressed and got better each day. It was fun to get in contention, especially after not being there for three weeks and not playing. I thought it was a great golf course; demanding off the tee as well into the greens.”

He was talking about TPC Southwind but could have very easily been talking about Merion.

Mickelson’s love affair with the U.S. Open has been well documented, and he does have a history of playing well there when he plays the week before.

The assessment from Mickelson going into this year’s national championship? He’ll work the 3-wood into play a lot, as well as his long irons.

His short game will be essential, too.

“My short game got better as the week wore on,” Mickelson said. “The first day was pathetic.”

His chances at Merion are anything but, however.

What will Mickelson do? That’s half the fun, at least for us. Mickelson is still looking for his first U.S. Open title. Maybe this is the week he finally gets it. 

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“The main thing that I am looking forward to is playing the Masters next year. Growing up in Georgia, I mean that was the main tournament that I always watched and went to when I was a kid. The invitation to the Masters is going to be very special and special for my family because they've put a lot of hard work and a lot of time and to get me where I am.” -- Harris English, who also played at the University of Georgia, following his first career win Sunday in Memphis.

“I was shaking. I was glad I had a two-shot lead on that two-footer I had because my hands were shaking. I couldn't feel them and I was just hoping that ball goes in the hole.” -- English on his putt for par to win.

''The greens are small, they're difficult to get the ball stopped, and there are a lot of cool little shots around the greens. So the precision of the iron shot into the green as well as the importance of hitting fairways here is a similar style of golf that will happen at Merion next week.'' -- Phil Mickelson, on how playing at the Fedex St. Jude Classic could fine tune him for the U.S. Open. 

"It’s a little bit -- or a lot -- intrusive, but we’re dealing with it and we’re happy and that’s all that matters." -- Lindsey Vonn on the attention she has received since she started dating Tiger Woods.

TWEETS OF THE WEEK

@david59duval: Headed to Philly tomorrow for some TV work for the Open … It’s time for some fresh voices in golf. Let me know how I’m doing. All opinions are welcome. -- A pair of tweets from the former No. 1 player in the world, who will join ESPN as part of its TV coverage. Duval has always been one of the more insightful players in the game, and his commentary should boost the coverage.

@bubbawatson: Just played Merion for the 1st time, cool place! A lot of long irons this week! – Maybe for Watson, but not for everybody. Jack Nicklaus thinks those who don’t use driver more than a few times don’t have a chance.

THE BACK NINE: 9 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. While the final round of the FedEx St. Jude Classic was wrapping up in Memphis, Tiger Woods was among a handful of players to practice Sunday at Merion, where the gates were open for fans who wanted to buy U.S. Open merchandise early. The early takeaway? The longest/thickest rough in recent years and, as Kevin Chappell told the Associated Press, “a TOUR event on steroids.”

2.  Given the heavy rain in Philadelphia last week, Merion got 3.5 inches of rain and the water from the creek alongside the 11th green came within six inches of it -- here’s something to keep in mind about the rough this week, via the June issue of Golf Digest and Lee Trevino, who won the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion: “It was thick, and because it rained early in the week, wet,” Trevino told writer Guy Yocom. “It held the moisture and never did dry out completely.”

3. My favorite groups for the first two rounds of the U.S. Open: Ian Poulter-Jason Dufner-Boo Weekley (three extremely different personalities); Geoff Ogilvy-Angel Cabrera-Paul Lawrie (all major winners); Luke Donald-Lee Westwod-Martin Kaymer (three former No. 1s); Thongchai Jaidee-Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano-Thorbjorn Olesen (the all spelling bee group).

4. Stat of the Week I: U.S. players have been dominant at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in recent years -- not all that surprising given the field and the golf course -- with Harris English becoming the 11th U.S. player since 2000 to win there. The lone exception? Lee Westwood in 2010, and that took Robert Garrigus blowing a three-shot lead on the final hole.

5. Stat of the Week II: As Garrigus demonstrated a few years ago, leads aren’t all that easy to hold at TPC Southwind. The same was true this year with English becoming the seventh come-from-behind winner there the last eight years.

6. Stat of the Week III: Phil Mickelson has 41 career wins on the PGA TOUR. But he’s also been a bridesmaid plenty of times, finishing second 28 times, including on Sunday, giving him at least one win and one runner-up in each of his last 10 years on TOUR. As inconsistent as he sometimes can be, there has also been a certain level of consistency to his career.

7. The good news for Mickelson about playing last week in Memphis? Not the second-place finish, or the 245 FedExCup points he picked up, but the fact that in each of the four majors he has won, he played the week before. None of those of course have come at the U.S. Open, however, where Mickelson has been a runner-up five times.

8. Speaking of the U.S. Open, this was the seventh straight year the FedEx St. Jude Classic has been played the week before the U.S. Open. The best U.S. Open finish by the prior week’s champion is a tie for 16th Westwood in 2010. That winless streak will continue another year since English isn’t in the field at Merion.

9. Unlike a PGA TOUR event, cell phones aren’t permitted at the U.S. Open. Here’s a friendly reminder of what else isn’t allowed: No cameras (except on Monday through Wednesday), PDAs or tablets or portable email devices, bags larger than 8x8x8, signs/posters/banners, televisions or radios (other than ones provided by the USGA), outside food or beverages (except for medical or infant needs), containers or coolers (except for medical or infant needs), pets (other than service animals), lawn or oversized chairs (portably compact chairs are permitted), bicycles, ladders or stools, metal-spiked shoes, weapons or other items deemed unlawful or dangerous. 

MONDAY BACKSPIN MAILBAG
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Which European do you think has the best chance of winning the U.S. Open this year? -- Michael Wray

A couple of years ago, I thought this was the best opportunity for Luke Donald to win a major. But he hasn’t been in his best form, so I’m going with Graeme McDowell. He has experience, is accurate off the tee and seems to be close to the player he was in 2010. 

Are there any players who are not big fans of Merion? -- Matt Forgie

To a man, every player I have talked to about it is looking forward to it. It’s not often tournaments are played at places like Merion, which is a throwback and a classic in every sense. Maybe someone’s opinion will change during or after the tournament, but I doubt it.

Have a question for the mailbag? Send it to brianwacker@pgatourhq.com or via Twitter at @pgatour_brianw.

FORWARD SPIN: WHO I LIKE THIS WEEK

For the first time in nine years, the U.S. Open will be played on a course that measures under 7,000 yards. The last time it did was at Shinnecock Hills, where Retief Goosen won. There’s hidden length in Merion, though -- all but one of the par 3s is over 240 yards, and there’s a par 5 that is 628 yards. So who has the best chance to win? Like any U.S. Open, it will come down to keeping the ball in the fairway off the tee and putting. Tiger Woods has done both most of the season, so it’s hard not to like his chances. I also think Graeme McDowell could be a factor, given his accuracy off the tee. In terms of a darkhorse, Robert Karlsson has played Merion before, likes it a lot and is in good form.

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