Could he possibly finish fourth in the PGA Championship and make it 1-2-3-4? Will he go for the cycle this week?
No, of course not ' not on purpose, anyway. Mickelson has come to Whistling Straits to finish first again ' is there any prize given to someone who busts a cycle with two 1s, a 2 and a 3?
Mickelson shudders when he thinks about how close it was to three 1s. A chip here, a putt there, maybe one more drive on the fairway has he contemplated how close he was to having this multiple-win scenario happen?
Oh, absolutely, he said. I'm three shots away from having the Grand Slam. Certainly I think about that.
The coulda-woulda-shouldas of golf - such thoughts could drive a man to chess. And for a lesser man than Mickelson, it certainly would. Maybe it was all those years of carrying that hated label ' you know the one. That must have made him better able to carry the almosts and come back the next month for yet another try at shedding it.
Had it not been for the double bogey on 17 at the U.S. Open that let Reteif Goosen squeeze through to the win ' a three-putt from five feet. And at the British, he finished just one lousy stroke out of the Hamilton-Els playoff. A four-footer for par on 13 stayed out of the cup when he was tied for the lead, and he never could get his nose in front again.
I don't dwell on it, he said, and he probably really doesnt. What I try to do is think about what I can do to make up those three shots. I would also like to maybe make up a couple of shots, even at Augusta, so I don't have to make one on the 18th on the last hole for the win.
I'm constantly thinking about how to salvage a half a shot here or there or even a quarter of a shot. If I can improve my 72-hole total by three or four shots, it would be a world of difference. That's less than a shot a round. Those are the things I'm trying to improve upon. I've been able to do it well this year, but had I been able to do it just a little bit better, it could have been an incredible year.
That Mickelson is enjoying his greatest year ever wont even be debated here. At the end of the day, those two close ones ' the Opens ' will be forgotten. The Masters will live on, of course, and because he won that one, the two setbacks didnt carry quite as much string.
I think it would have been quite a bit tougher, absolutely, he said. Having those close chances, having the lead in the final nine and not winning would have been a lot tougher had I not won the Masters.
From another viewpoint ' standing outside the ropes, looking at this whole thing strictly as a spectator ' it couldnt get much better. Mickelson has played extremely well. So has Els. Vijay Singh has amassed four wins already. And Tiger Woods has been all around the victory circle, reaching it once.
We've had four guys play very well and then we've had some incredible performances from other players, confirmed Mickelson. Todd Hamilton's performance at the British Open is something special and makes the year very exciting. But to have Vijay and Ernie and myself and Retief and Tiger, guys that you expect to play well play well, that makes for a fun year.
And how much has it been if youre out there grinding, looking at the guys as one of their opponents?
Well, my year is fun because I've been playing well and I had a win at the Masters and have had very consistent play, he said. That's what's made my year fun.
And then, it was honesty time.
It doesn't really excite me, he confessed, I'll be honest with you, to see Ernie or Vijay play that well.
And then, a hearty laugh. You can do that when youve finished 1-2-3 in the majors.
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