U.S. Open 2018: Can Phil Mickelson finally prevail?
Phil Mickelson knows time is running out in his quest for U.S. Open glory. Yet there is reason to believe he could finally win this week.
This week at Shinnecock Hills, a significant number of golf fans will be hoping a true great can secure a long-awaited victory that would rank among the most notable in the sport's illustrious history.
And just to be clear - this time, we're not talking about Tiger Woods' quest for major number 15.
Woods is naturally the focus of much attention in New York as he returns to U.S. Open action 10 years on from his last success in one of golf's premier events.
A win for Tiger would, of course, be huge news, but it would arguably be just as big a story if his old rival Phil Mickelson, who turns 48 on Saturday, finally got his hands on the one prize that has continually eluded him.
In fact, former PGA Tour professional Brad Faxon believes a Mickelson triumph would outrank any previous major victory.
In quotes reported by the PGA Tour's official website, Fox Sports analyst Faxon said: "If he wins the U.S. Open at 48, after all of the second-place finishes, it would be the biggest story in the history of golf."
Ah yes, all of the second-place finishes. In 26 previous U.S. Open outings, Mickelson has endured the heartbreak of being the runner-up on six occasions, while also tying for fourth in 1995 and 2010.
PHIL MICKELSON'S U.S. OPEN RECORD (1990-2017)
Tied-29th (as amateur), T55 (as amateur), Missed Cut, Did Not Play, T47, T4, T94, T43, T10, 2, T16, T7, 2, T55, 2, T33, T2, Missed Cut, T18, T2, T4, T54, T65, T2, T28, T64, Missed Cut, Did Not Play.
There are those who will feel his chance has now passed. After all, Hale Irwin was almost three years younger than Mickelson is now when he became the oldest winner in the tournament's history in 1990 at Medinah, aged 45 and 15 days.
Mickelson made his U.S. Open debut that year, claiming low amateur honours, and has since competed in every year bar two - notably missing the 2017 event to attend his daughter's graduation.
On so many occasions, including his first visit to Shinnecock in 1995 when he tied for fourth, 'Phil the Thrill' has been firmly in contention on Sunday.
Yet a familiar theme has always repeated, Mickelson coming up agonisingly short at Pinehurst (1999), Bethpage (2002 and 2009), Shinnecock (2004), Winged Foot (2006) and Merion (2013).
Surely, if he was going to win the U.S. Open, it would have happened by now?
Well, maybe not.
Few people, perhaps not even Phil himself, believed he would ever win The Open prior to his surprise success at Muirfield in 2013.
And while Mickelson would need to break new ground to prevail this week, his form certainly suggests it is possible. Since February, he has recorded seven top-13 finishes on the PGA Tour, including five top-fives and a win at the WGC-Mexico Championship.
What is more, those two previous top-four placings at Shinnecock indicate the course is very much to his liking.
Phil Mickelson finished tied for fourth in the #USOpen at Shinnecock Hills in 1995, and was the runner-up in 2004. One term that comes to mind for this week? Unfinished business. https://t.co/21ePttn0KA pic.twitter.com/NWFVxQ8e0H— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 12, 2018
Knowing he is unlikely to play at the highest level for too many more years and encouraged by both his recent showings and the fact Pebble Beach and Winged Foot - two other venues that suit his game - follow Shinnecock in hosting the U.S. Open, Mickelson senses his time may finally have come.
"These three [courses] provide me a great opportunity to finish out this final leg [of a career Grand Slam]," said the five-time major champion in his pre-tournament news conference.
"Certainly, with the way I've been playing this year and at the consistency level, as well, as at a much higher level than I've played the last few years, it gives me a great opportunity."
With the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Justin Rose in fine form, Mickelson is certainly not the favourite in the second major of 2018. However, he is most definitely a legitimate contender as he seeks a career-defining title.
Can Phil Mickelson finally win the U.S. Open? Absolutely.