“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.
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.