Phil Pining for First Open Victory


Phil Mickelson doesnt watch the tape. He remembers the good parts well enough, and there are certain other parts he'd rather forget.
Mickelson doesnt need to view a replay of the 1999 U.S. Open to remind him of what happened that Sunday in Pinehurst, N.C. He recalls quite vividly the putts he missed: the 7-footer for par on 16; the 7-footer for birdie on 17; and the 25-footer for birdie on 18.
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson has three runner-up finishes in his last six U.S. Open appearances.
He also recalls just as clearly the putts Payne Stewart made: the 25-foot par save on 16; the 3-foot birdie putt on 17; and the 15-foot birdie clincher on 18.
I think that I have looked back, but I really don't remember much of the round now except the last three holes, and I stopped really rehashing it, he said.
And hell never forget the way Stewart approached him in the chaotic aftermath ' when Stewart embraced Mickelsons face with both his hands and told him the joys of fatherhood would far outweigh this disappointment.
I was most impressed with Payne when here he just won the greatest championship of the game and he's thinking about Amy and myself, Mickelson said. He's very prophetic, too; being a father is the most fulfilling thing that I've ever experienced in life.
Once again, the best in the game have returned to the No. 2 course at Pinehurst; this time for the 105th edition of the United States Open. Unfortunately, they do so without Stewart, who died in a plane accident just four months after his most defining victory.
This is the second major of the season, with Tiger Woods having won the Masters in April. It marks an opportunity for Woods to complete the second leg of the seasonal Grand Slam for the second time in four years.
It also marks an opportunity for the United States Golf Association to redeem themselves after being taken to task by players, media and fans after the way they set up last years venue, Shinnecock Hills.
Complaints were few and far between in regards to the way Pinehurst was set up in 99. Most players ' at least those not named John Daly ' enjoyed the unique challenge the course presented. They liked the fact that the courses defense against red numbers was shifted from the fairways to the greens.
Only one player finished under par in 99. And he was only one stroke to the good.
But what a good stroke that last one was. Stewarts reaction is one of the most indelible images in golf history.
Mickelson can see it clearly. He doesnt need to close his eyes or watch it on tape.
There is one video, however, he enjoys viewing. The event took place in 2004 in Augusta, Ga. It also ends with a player making about a 15-foot putt on the final hole to win by a stroke.
I've actually watched that probably four or five times, yeah, Mickelson said with a laugh about the 04 Masters, which he won for his first major championship. Of course I knew the outcome then, but it was more exciting for me.
Come Sunday he may very well want a copy of the 2005 U.S. Open for his own collection.
Five for the Title:
Phil Mickelson
No one this week will be a more sentimental choice to win than Mickelson. And no one should be a more favored pick than Mickelson either. The left-hander has a short game like no other, which is critical to scoring and saving shots around Pinehursts greens, which Woods likened to upside-down bowls. Mickelson has three runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open, and they have all come on non-traditional Open venues: Pinehurst, 1999; Bethpage Black, 2002; Shinnecock, 2004. While most of the top players were competing at the Memorial two weeks ago, Mickelson got in some quality practice time at Pinehurst. He then tried to stir up his competitive juices last week at Congressional, where he tied for 29th in the Booz Allen Classic after a disappointing, closing 74.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is seeking his third U.S. Open victory in the last six years.
The last time Woods won the Masters, he went on to win the U.S. Open, and the golf world was abuzz with Grand Slam talk. Its just a murmur right now, but should he win this week cover your ears. Like Mickelson, Woods already has a couple of Pinehurst practice rounds under his belt, playing the course last week. But while Mickelson reportedly took seven hours during one round to familiarize himself with the layouts intricacies, Woods reportedly completed two rounds in about five hours. Woods, who finished two back of Stewart in 99, tied for third in his last start at the Memorial. He said that his game is in great shape, despite his historic missed cut at the Byron Nelson.
Vijay Singh
Singh tied Woods for third place six years ago at Pinehurst. He did so thanks to leading the field in scrambling. Singh missed 36 of 72 greens in regulation at Pinehurst in 99, but still made par or better on 27 of those occasions. If the ever-accurate Singh can get his ball to finish on the green only half of the time, you know scrambling is going to be an important category this week. Singh would dearly love to win the U.S. Open; not because of this years venue, but because it would give him three legs of the career Grand Slam. To do so, however, hell have to find the form that has led to three wins and seven top-3s this season. In his last two starts, Singh has a missed cut and a tie for 29th.
Retief Goosen
The defending champion doesnt have very many positive memories in relation to his last competitive foray to Pinehurst. He shot 75-82 to miss the cut by 10 shots. Of course, that was a much different Goosen ' one who hadnt won two U.S. Open titles. Putting was the key to Stewarts success in 99, as he led the field in putting average. Goosen is a tremendous clutch putter. He needed only 11 swipes over his final nine holes in winning at Shinnecock last year. On a course that emphasizes the importance of the short game, Goosen should be confident in his chance of becoming just the second player (Curtis Strange, 1988-89) in over 50 years to repeat as champion.
Jim Furyk
Weve been pushing Furyk as a favorite hard over the last month, and hes performed fairly well. He closed in 64-68 to tie for eighth at the Memorial two weeks ago. Last week, however, he tied for 37th. Furyk, like Goosen, is a great clutch putter. He has one U.S. Open title (2003 at Olympia Fields) to his credit, and has total package to add another one.
Playing Out the Front Nine:
Four more players to keep an eye on
*Ernie Els, who is a two-time U.S. Open champion. Els was in contention to win his third Open trophy last year, but shot 80 in the final round at a baked-out Shinnecock. Els missed the cut here in 99 and admits to having a greater affinity for the championships more traditional, tree-lined courses.
*Chris DiMarco, who lost to Woods in a playoff at this years Masters. It should be interesting to see how DiMarco fares in his first major since that difficult defeat at Augusta. He tied for ninth last year at Shinnecock for his best-ever Open finish. He also leads the tour in putting average, which should be a critical statistic this week.
*Luke Donald, who is among the chic picks this week. Donald has the consistency to eventually be a U.S. Open champion. He tied for 18th in his lone Open appearance at Bethpage Black in 2002. In addition to putting average, another statistical category of importance this week is scrambling. Donald is tied with Jose Maria Olazabal for first on tour in this department. Tony Jacklin, however, is the last European player to win the Open, doing so in 1970.
*David Duval, who led the field in greens hit in regulation in 99 at Pinehurst. Duval most certainly wont win this week, but hes definitely worth keeping an eye on. He hasnt played since missing the cut at the Masters. In between the seasons first two majors, he became a first-time father and has been working with his former college coach, Puggy Blackmon, in hopes of finding his old swing.
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