Sunday, June 17, 2001

Mickelson's first major in reach

        TULSA, Okla. — Well, here he goes, another Sunday, another big chance to fulfill his destiny or his potential or whatever you want to call it. You'd like to think this is Phil Mickelson's week, finally. But he keeps making you change your mind.

        Watching Mickelson makes you nervous. It's like going to an air show. When it works, it's beautiful. When it doesn't ...

        He's 3-under par after three rounds of the U.S. Open, two
shots out of first place. Mickelson turned 31 Saturday. He's ranked second in the world. His game won't get much better than it is right now. Neither will his nerves.

        What's more, Tiger Woods, who has taken up residence in Phil's head Sunday afternoons, is nine shots behind.

Phil Mickelson putts Saturday.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        This is Mickelson's moment. Because if not now, when?

        “I started panicking when I got to my mid-30s, worrying a lot whether I was going to win a major,” said Nick Price, who won the PGA at 35. “Phil (hasn't) quite got to that age yet. (But) every one that goes by that you have a chance and don't win, it puts more pressure on you.”

        The way Mickelson played Saturday, and the good bounces he got the day before, he should be three shots ahead. But Mickelson plays the Open the way he plays every tournament: without a net.

        Good things happen. Spectacular things. Also bad things.

        “I don't play well playing conservative,” he said.

        From a perfect lie on the 18th fairway, Mickelson pulled his approach into the deep rough right of the pin. A par there would have been fine. Mickelson was thinking birdie. He shot at the flag.

        At the par-5 13th, Mickelson bombed his tee shot, then put his approach 10 feet from the hole. An eagle would have given him the lead. He made a three-putt par.

        On Friday, Mickelson wedged in a 35-yard birdie on the first hole, then made a hole-in-one at No.6. That's two gift strokes, at least. The best he could do on a good day for scoring was a 1-under 69.

        And so on.

        “All year, I've played very well. I certainly feel very comfortable in this position,” Mickelson decided.

        In his way are Sergio Garcia, who is 21 and doesn't know he's supposed to have high blood pressure on Sunday at the Open, and Retief Goosen, whose putting Saturday was as pressure-free as you'll ever see in this event.

        Also, Rocco Mediate. If Mickelson had Mediate's mind, he'd have won a few majors already. “It'll be fun,” Mediate allowed. “Nerve-wracking. Tomorrow's survival, period.”

        You'd think Mickelson would be a big favorite. The greens are getting silly-fast; putting Saturday was like cutting diamonds. Mickelson is a very good putter. He can be magic around the greens, as well. Nobody is a better wedge player.

        But if Mickelson doesn't win his first major championship here today — the “ongoing saga,” he called it — no one will be surprised.

        The Open doesn't offer easy answers. How else do you explain Woods, 4-over and nine strokes behind?

        After a grinding 69, Woods offered a Twilight Zone-ish interview in which he praised himself for a good effort. “You can't be too disappointed if you try as hard as you can,” a smiling Tiger decided.

        That's nice. But should the winner of the last four majors sound like a Little League coach? Woods even said he made a “good” bogey at the par-4 ninth, after hitting yet another bad iron into a bunker. Maybe this was Tiger, awakening to his own mortality, along with the rest of us. Or maybe this is what Open pressure looks like.

        Into this valley of tension comes Phil Mickelson. “I don't know who's up there (on the leaderboard), but I feel I've had a few more chances to win” than they have. “I'll be able to draw from that.”

        Today, we'll see how deep his well is.

        E-mail: Past columns at

Penalty knocks ex-champ out of Open
All Tiger all the time on NBC
Continuing U.S. Open coverage from Associated Press golf guide

Sports Stories
Harvick cruises to Busch victory
Ky. Speedway race results
70,338 fill Speedway
SULLIVAN: Carroll makes his pitch to NASCAR boss
NASCAR boss won't tip his hand
Area racing lost one of best in Bill Green
Austin, Williams win KOs
Austin's roadmap to stardom
- DAUGHERTY: Mickelson's first major in reach
Penalty knocks ex-champ out of Open
All Tiger all the time on NBC
Herman to defend in Celebrity golf
Women's Met golf starts Monday
Women's Met tee times
Best and worst of week in sports
Tribute to baseball fathers and sons
Current players whose fathers played in the majors
High School Insider
Injured Schwegmann sits out Ky. girls' victory
Ky. boys beat Indiana stars
Hockey Insider

Rockies 8, Reds 7
Jury's out on Boone
Fan's-eye look at the Reds
Mateo's broken leg not seen as liability
Casey sits against LH Hampton
Win caps longest day for Rockies
Reds box, runs
Out of chaos, UC star learns a lesson of success