NBC Golf Analyst Johnny Miller spent last week touring Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. The 7,546-yard course hosted the 1997 U.S. Open won by Ernie Els, and is gearing up for Thursday’s 111th playing of the United States Open Golf Tournament.
Miller, the preeminent golf commentator in the world, explained what a U.S. Open win by five-time runner-up Mickelson would mean and how the absence of Woods impacts the tournament?
“It impacts it big time,” said Miller, who won the 1973 U.S. Open and had top 10 finishes in ’71 and ’72. “I’m not saying he would have won—which I don’t think he would have—but he’s a show in his own.
“He’s going through a lot personally, and physically. The guy couldn’t have more things go wrong that have gone wrong. He’s a mess right now. I’m pulling for him to get it together, but it’s not easy.”
Miller, who spoke to me at a high school rodeo in Heber, Utah believes Woods made a mistake by switching swing coaches during such a tumultuous period in his life. The controversial commentator said golf fans may never see Tiger return to the form that earned him 14-major championships, including three U.S. Open victories.
Said Miller: “I think people have accepted the fact that [Tiger] might not come back—and he probably won’t come back to the level he once was.
“Golf fans are enjoying the young players and trying to pull for them. It’s not quite the e-ticket ride that Tiger Woods was in his prime, but golf will always survive. And no one will ever be bigger than the game.”
And if Tiger Woods’ greatest victory was winning the 2008 U.S. Open in an 18-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate, then Phil Mickelson’s biggest blunder will always be the final holes of the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
It’s impossible to forget Mickelson’s face plant down the stretch. Lefty’s bogey at No.16 followed by a horrendous double-bogey at the last, all but gift wrapped the title for Geoff Ogilvy. But in Miller’s mind, a win by Phil this weekend would all but erase those awful memories.
“He should have won at Winged Foot, for sure,” Miller noted. “It’s pretty sad he didn’t win there. He made a couple of mental errors at the end, especially at 18 (the 72nd hole). I’d love to see him win it. He can make this U.S. Open one of the all-time U.S. Opens if he can win.”