It can be useless trying to predict Phil Mickelson's play. He can play great when it's least expected and awful when he looks like a lock.
So, instead of projecting how he will do, I'm going to decipher what he needs to do to succeed and improve on his career-best finish of second, which he's done three times, at the U.S. Open.
First, it is worth noting that he enters the U.S. Open with a hot hand. He came in second last week at the St. Jude Classic and showed how dialed in with his irons he was with this remarkable 151-yard approach on the final hole of the tournament:
Here are Mickelson's keys to success at the Merion Golf Club:
*All stats via PGATour.com.
Keep It in the Fairway
Mickelson will be troubled by his inaccuracy off the tee. He hasn't hit over 55 percent of his fairways in any of his last three starts, and he's hitting just 53.8 percent of his fairways for the year. This is always a concern for Mickelson at the U.S. Open.
While he has three runner-up finishes including a recent one in 2009, he was 65th last year and 54th the year before that.
Mickelson's woes off the tee will be limited by the fact that this course is going to be insanely soft. Check out this Instagram pic by Ian Gilley on Monday:
Not only did this course get soaked early in the week, but it might during the tournament as well. According to weather.com, more rain is expected on Wednesday evening, "strong storms" on Thursday and late rain again on Friday.
This will all soften up the fairways, which means not as many balls will be rolling off them. However, this isn't going to do Mickelson any good if he is landing in the rough.
Maintain Putting Stroke
Where will Mickelson finish?
Putting is a universal key to any tournament, and it's always been true for Mickelson. "Lefty" is streaky with his flat iron. He has great touch, but at times, he has struggled to sink putts he should be drilling.
The good news is that he's been putting great. In the three starts since The Masters, he finished with a strokes gained-putting mark of 2.522 at Wells Fargo, 1.083 at the Players and then .856 last week at the St. Jude Classic.
While his numbers have been on a slow decline, .856 is still a great number. If he can maintain that kind of performance at Merion, he should be in good shape.
Avoid the Bad Hole
Mickelson's go-for-broke style has endeared him to countless fans. It has also saved him on many occasions—like it did on the 13th hole at Augusta while he was on his way toward winning The Masters:
Of course, things don't always work out this well for him. As we discussed, he can get a little errant off the tee. When he does find the rough at Merion, he can't get too aggressive. The thick and nasty stuff at Merion won't allow it.
Check out this tweet by the Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman:
Rough at Merion is big talking point. Heavy & they're still fertilizing it. Rory McIlroy hit ball in yesterday, couldn't find it— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) June 5, 2013
In case you are skeptical about the rough actually being fertilized, golfer John Peterson posted this pic of the grounds crew spreading growth enhancement:
So, the message to Lefty has to be clear: Don't try and be a hero out of this rough. He needs to just make the safe play, take his medicine and move on to the next shot.