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Inside the Ropes: Mickelson rues lost major opportunities

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There was a time when the golf world was wondering when, not if, Phil Mickelson would win a major championship.

Then he broke through to capture the Masters in 2004, and he's added three titles in the Grand Slam events in career so grand that last year he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Now, after failing to close the deal at Merion while holding the lead in the final round, recording a record sixth runner-up finish in the U.S. Open without winning the national championship, there is another question.

Will Mickelson ever win another major?

Even though he is 43, Mickelson still has the game to win one of the Big Four events, but despite his successes, more often than not either the golf gods do not smile on him or he seems to get in his own way.

One thing that's known is that he won't give up.

"At 43, I feel as good as I've ever felt," Mickelson said at Merion. "I feel like I'm in better shape than I've been in years. I feel stronger than I've been, more flexible. And I've had no injuries or aches or pains."

That despite coping with psoriatic arthritis, which he was diagnosed with in 2010, soon after he claimed his last major championship and third Masters title.

Mickelson appeared in a television commercial a few years back in which there was yet another question: "What will Phil do next?"

For now, he will return to the PGA Tour this week for the first time since the U.S. Open when he plays in the Greenbrier Classic on the TPC Old White Course at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

Moving forward, it would seem that he needs to win more majors in order to avoid ending up like Greg Norman, another great champion who is known more for his failures than his triumphs.

"Phil Mickelson is the modern-day Greg Norman," Butch Harmon, who has been the swing coach for both, told David Feherty on the Golf Channel. "They wear their heart on sleeve, go for broke. That's how they play the game. They're all out on everything. and that's why we love them.

"(Mickelson) is gonna win some more majors; he's not done.

"Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson, another similarity is that they are two of the most resilient players ever. We've seen some strange things happen to them, some of them self-induced and some by others doing things, but they've bounced right back, and to me that's the test of a true champion."

Harmon also said of Mickelson at Merion: "He is swinging the club as good as I've ever seen him hit it."

Phil the Thrill certainly is golf's Heartbreak Kid, with eight seconds and seven thirds in the majors in addition to his three victories in the Masters and one in the PGA Championship. The U.S. Open is the title he wants most.

"For me, it's very heartbreaking," Mickelson said in the aftermath at Merion. "This could have been ... a really big turnaround for me on how I look at the U.S. Open and the tournament that I'd like to win, after having so many good opportunities.

"Also playing very well here and really loving the golf course, this week was my best opportunity, I felt, heading in, certainly the final round, the way I was playing and the position I was in ... this was my best chance."

There was resignation in his voice and his eyes, but no doubt he will come out swinging again this week as he always does, and who knows, maybe he will have a chance in two weeks at Muirfield in the 142nd Open Championship.

Mickelson has only two top-10 finishes in 19 appearances in the oldest championship in the world, but he surprised everyone by tying for second behind 42-year-old Darren Clarke two years ago at Royal St. George's.

Clarke's victory had to give Mickelson and the rest of golf's 40-somethings hope. Mickelson undoubtedly knows that Hale Iwin was the oldest U.S. Open winner at 45 in 1990 at Medinah, and that Julius Boros was the oldest major winner at 48 in the 1968 PGA Championship at Pecan Valley in San Antonio.

However, the question for Lefty no longer is when, but if.
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