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    • Mickelson departs Memphis, prepares for Pinehurst

    • Phil Mickelson can complete the career Grand Slam with a victory at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. (Getty Images/Stephen Dunn)Phil Mickelson can complete the career Grand Slam with a victory at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. (Getty Images/Stephen Dunn)

    MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A few minutes before 7 a.m. on Sunday, Phil Mickelson walked alone toward TPC Southwind’s 10th tee. There was no need to traverse the 200 yards inside the ropes or with the escort of marshals. His caddie, Jim Mackay, trailed him by some 10 yards. Mickelson passed only a pair of volunteers, giving a nod and smile as he walked alone to complete his round.

    Several weather delays necessitated the early start to the FedEx St. Jude’s final day, during which Mickelson played 27 holes. Less than a dozen fans were there to see his start. It was quiet enough to hear Mickelson chat about weather and breakfast foods with his fellow competitors, Jason Bohn and Padraig Harrington. Because they were in the middle of their delayed third round, there was no starter to announce their tee shots. Bohn simply hit a few seconds after an air horn blew.

    The scene was surprisingly quaint, considering what awaits Mickelson in just a few days. Two storylines will dominate the days before the U.S. Open: the radically restored Pinehurst No. 2 and Mickelson’s quest to complete the career Grand Slam at an event that’s provided him trauma, not trophies.

    “I’m excited,” Mickelson said. “I love the golf course.”

    Pinehurst No. 2 seems ready to reward so many of Mickelson’s strengths – bold tee-shot strategy, risky recovery shots and a strong short game. Several holes allow players to select how boldly they want to play from the tee. The sandy areas off the short grass will allow players to scramble when they miss the fairway. Pinehurst’s domed greens will pose a strong short-game test.

    “If nobody hit a green, I feel like my chances are the best,” he said. “I’m excited about the prospect of a U.S. Open that has (the) short game as such an important element.”

    Rickie Fowler, who played Pinehurst with Mickelson last Monday, said the course will play a lot like the one where Mickelson has had the most major championship success: Augusta National Golf Club.

    “There are certain places, like at Augusta, where if you hit it you have no chance,” Fowler said. “There’s going to be times where it makes some of us look really stupid next week because there are going to be some impossible spots. It definitely fits Phil and his short game.”

    Fowler said he and Mickelson engaged in several short-game competitions from the “impossible” spots around the greens of Donald Ross’ design. Pinehurst’s grass will only be cut at two heights – for the greens and fairways. Driving accuracy will still be important, though, because of the potential for unplayable lies in the sandy waste areas.

    Mickelson tied for 11th at the tournament that preceded Pinehurst, the FedEx St. Jude Classic. It matches his best finish this season, but also reminds us that he has yet to post a top-10 in 14 PGA TOUR starts this season (he’s twice finished 11th).

    So, how does he rate his game as he heads out of Memphis?

    Driving? “I’m driving it very well.”

    Iron play? “Not very good this final round.”

    Putting? “Pathetic.”

    Mickelson switched this week to the same putter he used to win the 2013 Open Championship. He’d been using a blade putter for several weeks. “Sometimes I just have to change it up to get a little bit different feel,” he said. He also returned to the claw putting grip in the middle of the fourth round.

    “I need to putt a lot better than I did this week and I have a few things in my irons to work on but, for the most part, pretty solid four days,” he said.

    Mickelson’s major championship victories were listed as he walked to TPC Southwind’s 18th green Sunday afternoon. He received a standing ovation as he walked off the green and embarked on his mission to fill that glaring Grand Slam hole.

    A victory this week would be the convergence, and culmination, of several storylines. Last year’s dramatic Open Championship victory left Mickelson just a U.S. Open win away from joining Gene Sarazen, Gary Player, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only men to win all four of golf’s majors in the modern era.

    Mickelson had the first of his half-dozen U.S. Open runners-up at Pinehurst No. 2. Payne Stewart famously holed an 18-foot par putt on the final hole of the 1999 championship to best Mickelson by one. Mickelson played that week with a pager in his bag, ready to alert him when his wife, Amy, went into labor with their first child.

    “It’s a place that has a lot of great memories for me even though I didn’t win there,” Mickelson said.

    His most recent and record-setting sixth U.S. Open runner-up came last year at Merion Golf Club. He holed a 75-yard wedge shot on the 10th hole to take the lead, but three bogeys on the final six holes left him two shots behind Justin Rose. He and Rose will play together in the first two rounds at Pinehurst, along with reigning U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick.

    The stage is set for Mickelson at Pinehurst. Only time will tell if this is a story of redemption or another tragic tale. 

    Phil Mickelson’s 33-foot hole out from bunker is the Shot of the Day
    • Shot of the Day

      Phil Mickelson’s 33-foot hole out from bunker is the Shot of the Day

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