Golf / Sports

Mickelson resumes quest for Open title

PINEHURST, N.C. -- The most recent recollection of Phil Mickelson in the U.S. Open came on a Sunday evening last year at Merion Golf Club where he dashed out of the valley in front of the 18th green to see if his 35-yard pitch shot had gone in the hole.

The ball rolled past the cup. Mickelson's shoulders slumped and his head dropped. The missed shot meant that he would finish second for the sixth time, prompting him to say, "I just keep feeling heartbreak" after this Open had ended.

Now Mickelson is back as the U.S. Open returns to the No. 2 course of Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, the site of his initial runner-up finish -- a 1-stroke loss to Payne Stewart in 1999 when he carried a beeper while awaiting a call that his wife had gone into labor. Amanda Mickelson, the couple's first child, was born the next day.

Mickelson generated some memories here 15 years ago and he'd like to do it again, albeit in a winning position.

"I look at those close calls as a positive sign for having given myself so many opportunities in (the Open) and I believe I'll have more opportunities," he said. "When I do, hopefully the experience that I've had in the past will allow me to handle it better.

"Obviously I have a lot of very fond emotional memories from the '99 experience with Payne Stewart and coming so close, and now my daughter who is going to be 15 and we just started teaching her to drive. . . . I don't feel that old. I guess I look it but I don't feel it."

Mickelson, who will celebrate his 44th birthday on Monday, has been playing under a cloud of suspicion since being questioned on May 28 by the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission in a reported insider trading investigation. He has denied any wrongdoing.

While he wasn't asked specifically Tuesday about the investigation, he talked about his playing focus in light of what is happening outside the gallery ropes.

"Whether it's outside activities," he said, "or what's going on on the course, you've got to be able to control your thoughts and be able to visualize what you want to have happen on the shot at hand. Anything that's going on off the golf course or on, you have to be able to refocus."

Only Mickelson knows if the investigation has affected his performance. He is off to his worst start since 2003, with no Top-10 finishes in 14 events. He wound up tied for 11th last week in Memphis but said he could have won by eight shots "if I putted decent."

Mickelson is returning this week to the "claw" grip -- where the bottom hand guides the stroke. He said it will help him on short putts.

Mickelson thinks the short game will be important this week because Pinehurst's greens roll off away from the middle on all sides. He's one of the best in that area.

Mostly he wants to get over that runner-up hump and not allow his mind to wander to what a win might feel like, something that may have happened last year after his eagle 2 at Merion's 10th hole gave him a 1-stroke lead with eight holes remaining.

"I really just want to focus on what I need to do to get ready for Thursday," he said. "If I can do that, hopefully I'll give myself a chance on the weekend. But when I jump ahead, that never works out good, at least in the past -- six times."

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