5 Reasons Why Phil Mickelson Can Finally Win the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay
Phil Mickelson has competed in the U.S. Open 24 times in his career. He'll make his 25th start in the nation's championship at Chambers Bay.
In 24 starts, Mickelson has recorded 10 top-10 finishes with a record six second-place finishes. Could this be the year the 44-year-old finally breaks through?
Read on to find out why.
He's Done His Homework
Mickelson visited Chambers Bay the week prior to the Memorial Tournament to play practice rounds and chart the course with caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay.
Todd Milles of the News Tribune indicated that the golfer's "study quickly turned extensive. Mickelson spent more than a half-hour on the first hole alone, especially around the green, hitting all sorts of different types of shots."
Mickelson, who said he "really enjoyed" the course, is heading to a venue he's prepared diligently (or as diligently as he thinks he needs to) for. Despite his frailties and his penchant for unnecessary risk-taking, Mickelson knows how to plot his way around a course.
As this is a new venue for 98 percent of the field (and a tricky one, at that), Mickelson will have a competitive advantage thanks to both his aptitude for course strategy in general and the particular work he did at Chambers Bay.
Length and Touch
While we're not yet sure how the USGA will set up Chambers Bay and what the official yardage will be, we do know that the Tacoma, Washington, course will play long. It played at more than 7,500 yards for the 2010 U.S. Amateur and could be stretched substantially for the professionals.
Mickelson is averaging 297.3 yards off the tee this season, which makes him the the 28th-longest hitter on tour. Contrast that with last season, when Lefty was averaging 292.4 yards per drive, and 2013, when he was getting 287.9 yards per poke.
While Mickelson isn't having a great year with the putter or around the greens, it should be noted that his scrambling from the fringe numbers has been good (17th on tour), which should help him in the tight areas around Chambers Bay's greens.
Newfound Links Aptitude
Chambers Bay looks more like a links course than a traditional narrow, tree-lined U.S. Open venue such as, say, Pinehurst No. 2 or Merion.
Visually, it bears some resemblance to Whistling Straits or the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. If the course does play more like a links-style venue, Mickelson should be at an advantage given his recent aptitude for links golf.
Lefty won The Open Championship at Muirfield in 2013 (a week after winning the Irish Open) and finished tied for 23rd at Carnoustie last year. While it was a criticism of the left-hander as a youngster, he appears able to handle links golf at this stage in his career.
Mickelson turns 45 on June 16.
He has to know that his chances of winning the major are diminishing with each passing year. The U.S. Open's oldest winner, Hale Irwin, was 45 when he won in 1990. Thus, if the six-time runner-up were to win this season, he'd already be the second-oldest winner in history.
Mickelson is surely aware of these facts and has to be particularly motivated to capture the career Grand Slam this year.
There is likely an element of wisdom derived from his most recent near-win: Merion in 2013, when poor club selection down the stretch cost him. The extra bit of focus and perspective could propel him to a better showing than we've seen in the past. And as he's a six-time runner-up, it won't take much to get him over the hump and get a U.S. Open trophy in his hands.
Traditional Tuneup, Recent US Open Form Is Good
Mickelson is running into the open arms of TPC Southwind this week after a tie for 65th at the Memorial.
He's played the Tennessee course well in his career and finished tied for 11th at the venue last year. Mickelson's game hasn't been totally on point this season (particularly his putting), and a tuneup at a familiar track could be just the thing to get him going in the right direction ahead of the U.S. Open.
It's worth noting that Mickelson's most recent second-place finish at the U.S. Open came in 2013, a week after he finished second at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, which followed a missed cut at The Players Championship. So, there is precedent for Phil to come to TPC Southwind not playing well, have a strong showing there and then contend at the U.S. Open.
Stats via PGATour.com.