Monday Backspin: Mickelson will be the focus at Pinehurst in 2014

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Forever it seemed liked The Open Championship for Phil Mickelson would be what the French Open was to tennis’ Pete Sampras, a tournament that would vex him throughout his Hall-of-Fame career.

If anything, the other Open, the U.S. one, seemed more probable, even with a record six runner-up finishes in it, including one this year.

That fact wasn’t lost on Mickelson, even in the glow of what he called one of his most memorable rounds ever.

“And if six seconds counted as a win, I’d have all four of them,” Mickelson joked to ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi as they concluded their interview Sunday night.

Indeed, all the focus will be on Mickelson next June at Pinehurst No. 2, where he'll be going for the career Grand Slam. It's also the site of his first runner-up in the U.S. Open where Payne Stewart famously parred the last to beat Mickelson by one.

Afterward, Stewart grabbed Mickelson’s face and reminded him he was going to be a father.

Fast forward to earlier this year when Mickelson flew home to San Diego and back early in the week at the U.S. Open for the eighth grade graduation of his and wife Amy’s first child, Amanda, born the week after that heartbreaking loss to Stewart.

Talk about coming full circle -- almost.

There’s little Mickelson hasn’t accomplished in his two-plus decades on the PGA TOUR.

Winning the U.S. Open isn’t on the list, though, and a win there would put him in even rarer company.

Only five men have completed the modern day career Slam: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

It only seems fitting Mickelson would add his name to that list, and what better place than Pinehurst.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

''This is such an accomplishment for me ... To play what is arguably the best round of my career, to putt the way I putted, to shoot the round of my life, it just feels amazing to win the claret jug.'' -- Phil Mickelson after winning his first Open Championship

"I'm not too disappointed. I don't really get disappointed with golf anymore. I'm a philosophical person. It just doesn't wind me up or get to me anymore.” -- Lee Westwood, who now has eight career top-three finishes in majors.

“I let a great chance slip during the middle of the round, and that’s disappointing.” -- Adam Scott, who for the second straight year had the lead late in the Open only to make four consecutive bogeys, this time on Nos. 13 through 16 to finish in a tie for third four shots back.

 “I'm definitely under-thinking on the golf course, maybe over-thinking it off of it.” -- Rory McIlroy after a “brain dead” 79 in the opening round at Muirfield, where he missed the cut in the Open for the first time in his career.

TWEETS OF THE WEEK

@JasonDufner: Phil can get on 17 on two, precise shot required, won't chase as much into the wind. … 16 will be critical for Phil, can he execute the shot he needs. That pin looks accessible but it's a tough spot to get close -- A pair of tweets from an apparently prophetic Jason Dufner.

@stewartcink: Fitting that Phil destroyed holes 13-18 today to win the Claret Jug, while that same stretch destroyed most players hopes all week. -- The 2009 champ pointing out precisely where Mickelson won the Claret Jug.

@MarkCalc: Playing my 27th Open!! Played practice rd today with 2 guys who've only been alive 23 years. Lol -- Mark Calcavecchia, who suddenly felt very, very old last week.

THE BACK NINE: 9 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Tiger Woods has four wins this season, more than any other player on the PGA TOUR. But there’s now a pretty good body of evidence to suggest that he isn’t the same on the weekend of majors. The most telling is that over his last six majors, Woods is 11 under in the first two rounds and a startling 23 over in the last two. Also alarming: Sunday marked the sixth time Woods has been either one or two shots back entering the final round of a major, and Woods has never broken 70 in any of those rounds and still has yet to win a major coming from behind. “I've won 14 (majors) and in that spell where I haven't won since Torrey, I've been in there,” a frustrated Woods said Sunday. “It's not like I've lost my card. I've won some tournaments in that stretch and I've been in probably about half the majors on the back nine on Sunday with a chance to win during that stretch.” Woods didn’t lose this tournament on Sunday, though. He lost it on Saturday when after making birdie on the second hole to seize the lead he gave it back with bogeys on two of his next five holes. Five years ago, he would have grabbed the lead and never looked back. Instead, Woods was forced to play from behind and his Sunday 74 marked his highest final round in the Open as a pro.

2. Woods isn’t the only one struggling on the weekends of majors. Lee Westwood is now 1-for-5 on the PGA TOUR when holding at least a share of the lead going into the final round. The last time he had one going into Sunday of a major? The 2010 Masters. The player who won that year? Mickelson, who Westwood can and should learn from. "I think Phil is a few years older than Lee is so guys can still win in their 40s,” Ian Poulter told Sky Sports. “Lee has got plenty more years left. If he keeps putting himself in position he is going to be able to get his hands on one of them for sure. He is too good a player not to. Obviously the pressure is there so that every time he gets himself in position it is difficult because everyone wants him to win and he wants to win even more. I am sure if he keeps working the way he is and keeps improving then I am sure it is going to come.” Or he could end up like Colin Montgomerie. Unlike Mickelson, Westwood has more holes in his game, specifically in his short game. Ironically, that wasn’t what let him down this time. It was his usually-very-good ballstriking that did.

3. Not lost in that conversation, by the way, is Hunter Mahan, who has played in the final pairing on Sunday each of the last two majors, only to shoot 75 both times to finish ninth last week and fourth at the U.S. Open.

4. How costly was Hideki Matsuyama’s slow-play penalty Saturday? It was worth nearly $150,000 -- or the difference between a tie for third and a tie for sixth -- and perhaps more painfully a spot in next year’s Masters with the top four from the Open earning a spot in the field at Augusta National.

5. For the first time since 2010, Phil Mickelson is No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking with Rory McIlroy slipping to No. 3 after missing the cut. Mickelson was 22nd at the start of the year but has climbed thanks to two wins and four other finishes in the top 3. He has never been No. 1 in the world, and that’s still a long way off as he trails Woods by four points.

6. Stat of the Week I: Mickelson is only the third player in the last 100 years to be down five strokes after 54 holes in a major and win by at least three shots. The others? Nick Faldo at the 1996 Masters, where he had a little help from Greg Norman, and Justin Leonard at the 1997 Open Championship, where he closed with a 65.

7. Stat of the Week II: Mickelson’s 66 was the lowest final round in a major in his career and tied the lowest final round by a major winner since 2000. It also matched the low round of the week (Zach Johnson shot 66 in the opening round).

8. Stat of the Week III: Mickelson is third straight player 42 years or older to win the Open, joining Ernie Els and Darren Clarke. His win there also came in his 20th start in the Open, tying him with Clarke for the most starts before winning.

9. Mickelson wasn’t the only emotional winner Sunday. Woody Austin, playing on past champion status and making just his fourth start of the year on the PGA TOUR, got his first victory in six years, capturing the Sanderson Farms Championship in a playoff. “It's been a long road and a long time,” said the 49-year-old, who had missed the cut in his first three starts this season. “Now I've got a job again.” Daniel Summerhays, meanwhile, was on the flip side of things. At the John Deere Classic, he bogeyed the final hole of regulation to miss out on a playoff. Sunday, his chances ended when he hit his second shot in the playoff into the water.

MONDAY BACKSPIN MAILBAG
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Is Tiger really not as good as before, or is everyone else just getting better? -- Nick Haslam

A little bit of both, Nick. As mentioned earlier, Woods continues to put himself in position to win majors, only to come up short on weekends for one reason or another. But there’s also some truth to the fact fields are deeper than ever -- something that isn’t lost on Woods, either -- and therefore tournaments are ultimately tougher to win.

Which will happen first, Phil Mickelson winning the career grand slam or Tiger Woods winning another major? -- Jeff McMurray

Great question, and one I have no idea what the answer to is. Mickelson will certainly be one of the favorites next summer at Pinehurst No. 2, where he suffered one of his six career runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open, the only major that’s eluded him. Woods could still win the PGA Championship at Oak Hill next month, or the Masters next Apri, a tournament he has a long of history of success at. But since you asked, I’m sticking with Woods at Augusta National. Remember, he was possibly the width of the flagstick away from having the lead going into Sunday’s final round there this year and we all know how much better he is from the front of the pack.

Tiger is the conversion at all majors but has yet to claim a major when down after 54 holes. Why can't he win coming from behind? -- Richard Sherman

It’s a great mystery, isn’t it? Woods has won 14 majors and in every one of them he’s done so from the lead going into the final round. Part of his success when in the lead was like a self-fulfilling prophecy -- guys would struggle when they’d see his name atop the leaderboard knowing they needed to make birdies because they knew he wasn’t going to blow the lead. Conversely, when Woods trails he isn’t immune to the same pressures. And the more times it happens, the more it sticks in a guy’s head.

Have a question for the mailbag? Send it to brianwacker@pgatourhq.com, or tweet it to @pgatour_brianw.

FORWARD SPIN: WHO I LIKE THIS WEEK
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There are 29 players who played in The Open Championship who are also competing in this week’s RBC Canadian Open, which returns to Glen Abbey for the first time since 2009 (Nathan Green won that year). Among them? Brandt Snedeker, Ernie Els and Graeme McDowell. Graham DeLaet is also in the field, but no Canadian has won his national Open since Pat Fletcher in 1954 and as well as DeLaet has played at times I’m not sure I see that streak ending this year. Two players I do like: Snedeker, who finished fifth the last time this tournament was held at Glen Abbey, and defending champion Scott Piercy, who also finished sixth in 2011. All of Piercy’s dozen rounds in the tournament have been under par, though only once has anyone successfully defended (Jim Furyk in 2007).

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