Phil Mickelson had an up-and-down four rounds at the 2014 U.S. Open, but the lows were more prevalent than the highs as he finished with a score of seven strokes over par.
After putting himself in contention with a solid 70 on the first day, he could not keep it up as the course at Pinehurst No. 2 remained too difficult for the veteran to navigate. Mickelson finished the week with a 73, 72 and finally a 72.
Even though most players struggled throughout this tournament, Lefty was still far out of contention as Martin Kaymer built up a big enough lead from a dominant first two days.
Still, it was an eventful week for Mickelson from start to finish. Read on for a complete day-by-day recap of all the action from the popular golfer.
Day 4 Recap
Starting the day at five-over, there was virtually no chance for Mickelson to win his first U.S. Open. However, he knew that a good round could get him into the top 10 on a very difficult course.
In fact, he explained after his third round that his new goal was a seventh-career second-place finish at this tournament, via Jeff Babineau of Golfweek (via Fox Sports):
I'm always tinkering, making adjustments. And I've been having trouble getting the putter to go to the target. It's been kind of a short follow-through. So I had the shaft aimed a little straighter, a little more forward lean, or forward press. I took some of that out so the shaft was a little more vertical. The putter head went to the target a little bit easier. But I actually hit it pretty good today. I hit a lot of good putts.
If I hit it better and make some putts, I think I can shoot 4 or 5 under par, end around even, (and) finish second again.
Unfortunately, he was not nearly as consistent enough as he needed to be to keep his score low on Sunday.
It did seem like this was possible for a while, as noted by Ben Higgins of 10 News San Diego:
Phil Mickelson is 2-under through 7 holes (+3). If he catches fire down the stretch, maybe he can finish in 2nd place again.— Ben Higgins (@BenHigginsSD) June 15, 2014
Even after bogeying the first hole, Mickelson recovered and had a stretch of three birdies in a span of five holes to get to three-over for the tournament.
Unfortunately, Lefty ended up suffering some bad luck on the ninth hole when a shot out of the bunker rolled onto the green and right back off of it, leading to a bogey. This seemed to kill his momentum as it was followed by another bogey a few holes later.
After a few pars, Mickelson completely fell apart with a double bogey on the 16th hole. He ended his day with two pars to finish with a respectable 72, but his tournament score of seven-over is not what he was hoping to see.
This becomes yet another disappointing performance at the U.S. Open, and it is starting to seem more and more likely that he will never complete his career Grand Slam. This certainly appeared to be a great chance for him on a shot-maker's course with narrow fairways, but he faltered like so many others this week.
He will try to build himself back up over the next few weeks on the run toward The Open Championship, but questions about his ability to win the U.S. Open will remain until at least next year.
Day 3 Recap
It was already going to be hard for Mickelson just to get back into contention, much less try to replicate his achievement of finishing runner-up at Pinehurst in the 1999 U.S. Open. Or win.
Golf Central tweeted just how long the odds were against Mickelson to start the third round:
Mickelson finds himself 13 strokes behind Kaymer’s #USOpen lead. The largest deficit made up after 36 holes is 11 by Lou Graham in 1975.— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) June 14, 2014
Mickelson found momentum hard to come by en route to a two-over 72, moving him to five over par overall for the championship. If the leaderboard actually looked like the revised version GolfDigest.com's Sam Weinman posted, perhaps Mickelson's outlook would be a bit more optimistic:
That isn't the case, though, because Kaymer is just so far ahead of the curve. Birdies were rare bonuses for even the world's best golfers on Saturday, making the task of chasing Kaymer down all the more improbable.
One of the highlights of Mickelson's round came with a majestic drive on the fifth hole—a shortened par five that he didn't manage to birdie—per Yahoo! Sports' Shane Bacon:
Phil Mickelson just hit a ho-hum 350-yard drive on the par-5 5th. A reminder, he turns 44 on Monday.— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) June 14, 2014
The missed opportunity there seemed to follow Mickelson over to the next tee.
Following a bogey at the par-three sixth hole, though, a bounce-back birdie came at the par-four seventh. The hole played well over 400 yards the first two days, but the tees were moved up, and Mickelson capitalized to get back to level par for the day.
Nothing of note happened for the middle of the round, as Lefty coasted by with pars from Nos. 8 through 13, unable to work his way into red numbers. Then a bogey bit him at the par-four 14th, followed by another dropped shot at No. 16—a 531-yard par four.
A lipped out birdie attempt on the final hole added insult to injury.
Pinehurst's combination of length, unreceptive greens and the general mental grind a U.S. Open commands can wear on even the most optimistic of golfers. Mickelson has to be weary, considering he's struck the ball rather well from tee to green but has failed to convert enough key putts to be among the leaders.
Golf Channel's Rex Hoggard noted how Mickelson was battling the flat iron demons even before he hit the course Saturday:
Mickelson going with conventional grip today on the putting green. At least he did on that last one. Who knows w/ is next. #GCPhilTracker— Rex Hoggard (@RexHoggardGC) June 14, 2014
The best finish Mickelson has managed in the 2013-14 campaign is a tie for 11th. That's happened twice, including at last week's FedEx St. Jude Classic. All those struggles could have been redeemed with a strong result at the U.S. Open, but it appears that Mickelson won't even have that to hang his hat on.
This is becoming something of a lost season, no doubt one of the worst in Mickelson's career. With how spectacular he is around the greens, there is no need to count Mickelson out moving forward. Then again, he isn't getting any younger and is fighting to fix the most important element of his game, putting.
If Mickelson can't find a cure for his shaky stroke, be it with a standard or claw grip, his struggles will only persist. Barring a miraculous turnaround on the final day, this U.S. Open can't be viewed as much more than an anticlimactic letdown for Mickelson.
All focus must go into Mickelson's defense of the Claret Jug at the 2014 Open Championship next month. There are still two majors remaining for Mickelson to return to form, along with the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Day 2 Recap
USOpen.com; Started on Front Nine
Mickelson appeared well on his way to a bounce-back effort on Friday before quickly unraveling on Day 2.
Lefty began the second round strong, composing birdies on both the second and third holes to start his day on the right track. While his string of early success foreboded a huge day, he instead was saddled with five bogeys, scoring a three-over on the day to send his total score above par by three strokes.
ESPN's Kevin Van Valkenburg painted a gloomy picture of the legendary golfer's deflating mood as the day further slipped away.
I walked with Mickelson for most of his round today. Best way I can describe it: Was like watching a balloon slowly lose air over 4 hrs.— Kevin Van Valkenburg (@KVanValkenburg) June 13, 2014
Despite once again hitting 13 greens in regulation, his strong driving game did not yield positive results on the day. Putting once again plagued him, which some horrid misfortune coming in hole No. 14. An on-target putt rolled around the edge before bouncing out in painstaking fashion.
At the end of his 18 holes, Mickelson dipped all the way down into a tie for 34th place. While only 14 competitors trek into the weekend below par, Martin Kaymer holds a massive lead after posting a 10-under through 36 holes.
That means in addition to redeeming his shaky early contributions, he must also offset the best two holes in U.S. Open history during the weekend to capture that elusive U.S. Open crown. On the bright side, the chances of him finishing second for the seventh time are significantly smaller after Friday.
Day 1 Recap
USOpen.com; Started On Back Nine
The U.S. Open has always meant a lot to Mickelson. The pressure he puts on himself to finally bring home the trophy is probably a contributing factor to his drought in the event. But if he keeps putting himself in the mix, one day the breaks will fall his way. It could happen this week.
Heading into the event he talked about the close calls of past years. Michael Whitmer of The Boston Globe passed along his comments about a moment he shared with Payne Stewart on this very course back in 1999:
Growing up here in the United States, this is a tournament that I've always felt this patriotism to and would love to win, plus with all the close calls, it would really mean a lot to me.
Then to do it right here, where Payne and I had this moment and he talked about fatherhood, but he also talked about winning future US Opens. Although I haven't won one yet, I'm still fighting hard and this would be a great place to break through and do it.
All of that experience is a key advantage for Mickelson. Normally an aggressive player, he understands U.S. Open courses usually tend to be among the toughest tests of the season. Carding pars is usually good enough to remain in contention.
He opened the tournament in fine fashion with a birdie on the par-five 10th hole. Kieran Clark of eDraft Sports noted another accomplishment the American is trying to complete at Pinehurst this week, the career Grand Slam:
Birdie for Phil Mickelson. If he wins, he would be the 6th player to win all four majors: Nicklaus, Woods, Hogan, Player, Sarazen. #USOpen— Kieran Clark (@KieranClarkGolf) June 12, 2014
The best sign for Mickelson in the early going was his ball striking. He was keeping himself out of trouble and that's always crucial early in these events. The top contenders don't want to let one or two bad holes ruin their chances.
He pushed his score to two-under par on the 14th. Sam Weinman of Golf Digest noted a strong approach shot allowed "Lefty" to grab his second birdie:
Phil Mickelson just knocked it tight on 14, looking to go to two under. Greens seem surprisingly receptive. #USOpen— Sam Weinman (@samweinman) June 12, 2014
The three-time Masters champion gave a shot back on the next hole, though. A poor chip shot on the 15th turned what should have been another good look at par into a bogey. Those are the type of shots he must avoid should he be in contention on Sunday.
Mickelson got on the par train for awhile after the dropped shot. He remained at one-under for seven straight holes, including a couple nice scrambles to avoid falling back to even. And at the U.S. Open, stringing pars together like that is a welcome result.
He then took advantage of the day's second and final par-five opportunity at the fifth. A good tee shot gave him the green light to attack on his second shot. It wasn't a perfect approach, but it allowed him to get and convert the birdie chance.
Golf Central noted it moved him within one shot of the lead at the time:
Phil Mickelson (-2) birdies the par-5 5th (his 14th) to get within 1 of the early #USOpen lead held by Matt Kuchar.— Golf Central (@GolfCentral) June 12, 2014
Unfortunately for Mickelson, just as Matt Kuchar dropped a shot to push him into a tie for the lead he made a mess on the sixth green. A three-putt bogey marked the second straight time he gave a shot right back after a birdie.
Will Gray of the Golf Channel summed up the error:
First "Phil gonna Phil" moment of the week: after briefly holding share of lead, Mickelson 3-putts at No. 6. Back to -1. #GCPhilTracker— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) June 12, 2014
After missing a mid-range look at birdie on the seventh, he hit a terrible tee shot on the eighth. He actually recovered nicely to give himself a look to save par but it slid just by the cup. He tapped in for his second bogey in three holes, dropping him back to even.
He finished the opening round with a par on the ninth. It was a tricky putt after being a bit overzealous with the birdie attempt and he did well to drain it.
Following the round, Mickelson spoke about the need to improve his putting going forward (via Golf.com and KPMG Mickelson):
Phil on his opening round 70: "I didn't make any of the putts needed to have a good round. I let one get away on No. 15."— Golf.com (@si_golf) June 12, 2014
"I played really well and drove it great. But I really need to make those ones you need to make - the 15-20 footers." -PM #USOpen— KPMG Mickelson (@MickelsonHat) June 12, 2014
Looking ahead to Day 2, Mickelson shouldn't be overly concerned about the way he played on Thursday. There were a couple correctable mistakes and he still posted a round good enough to keep him in contention. That said, a slightly better effort in the second round would be a welcome sight.
What's your U.S. Open prediction for Mickelson?
Pinehurst No. 2 certainly wasn't providing anywhere near its maximum resistance to start the tournament. It should become progressively tougher over the next three days, and starting with an even-par round means Mickelson won't have to press too hard in an attempt to make up ground.
All told, he's still a top contender after Round 1, but there's plenty of golf left to play.