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Mickelson set for first crack at completing career slam

The SportsXchange

Phil Mickelson had this week circled on his calendar since last summer.

In July 2013, he captured the Open Championship with a brilliant final-round performance at Muirfield, claiming the major title that he seemed the least likely to own.

That gave Mickelson three legs of the modern career Grand Slam. He gets his first chance to join Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to claim all four titles when he tees it up Thursday in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst in North Carolina.

"It would mean a lot to win the national championship, complete the career Grand Slam," said Mickelson, who does not have a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour this year, although he did tie for second in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. "I've said that for a while, so I'm not going to deny it, and I do believe it will happen, whether it's at Pinehurst or at an upcoming event, upcoming championship.

"There's such a difference in the way I view the few major champions that have won all four, I view (them) in a different regard. I'm fortunate and I'm honored to be part of that long list of great players that have won three of the four. That's great. But it would mean a lot to me (to win the fourth).

"I would look at myself, I would look at my career, which is all I care about, in a whole different light if I were able to get that fourth one."

Of course, Mickelson probably should have all four by now, having finished second a record six times in his national championship.

The first one came right there on the famed No. 2 course at Pinehurst, where the late Payne Stewart holed a 15-foot par putt to claim the title by one stroke over Lefty, who watched from the other side of the 18th green.

Mickelson's other runner-up results came in 2002 behind Tiger Woods at Bethpage Black, 2004 behind Retief Goosen of South Africa at Shinnecock Hills, 2006 behind Geoff Ogilvy at Winged Foot, 2009 behind Lucas Glover at Bethpage Black (again), and last year behind Justin Rose of England at Merion.

Winged Foot might have hurt the most, because Lefty took a one-stroke lead to the final hole but sliced his drive off a hospitality tent en route to carding a double-bogey 6 that left him one stroke back.

And then there was last year, when he took a one-shot lead into the final round at Merion but closed with a 4-over-par 74 to finish two strokes behind Rose.

Mickelson never broke par in those six final rounds in which he finished runner-up in the second major of the year, posting a scoring average of 71.5, but he always stands up in front of the media afterward and takes his medicine.

"I just think it's easier to be honest and up front about what I'm feeling and going through than it is to try and deny it, which is why, when I lose, I talk about how tough it is," said Mickelson, who tied for 33rd at Pinehurst in 2005. "Because it is. It's challenging. Like it was the biggest defeat.

"I had such a down moment after losing at Merion. The same thing at Winged Foot. And it's easier, rather than trying to put on a front or trying to deny what's playing out in my head, just to be honest."

Of course, after hitting driver on the final hole at Winged Foot because he did not have a 3-wood in his bag, Mickelson famously said: "I am such an idiot."

The No. 2 layout was retooled by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore to make it play more as architect Donald Ross intended, and the course was in such demand that Mickelson was unable to get a tee time until it was closed to the public last week.

Lefty loves what he saw.

"I think everybody loves ... what Crenshaw and Coore did here," said Mickelson, who will play this week despite the distraction of his name being mentioned in a probe by the FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission over alleged insider trading. "They're the best at what they do, and they took a real gem from Donald Ross and they left the greatness of it, which are the greens, and restored the shot-making value that was originally intended.

"You've got to be in the fairway to have a realistic chance of controlling your shot and staying on the green. The greens are so penalizing that if you're not in the fairways, getting the ball onto the surface is almost impossible. You've got to be in the fairway to have a realistic chance of controlling your shot and keeping it on the green.

"And around the greens, so much skill and touch is involved with your short game, which is to salvage shots, as opposed to the 'hit-it-and-hope' out of the thick, heavy rough.

"It's so fun to play."

When Stewart beat Mickleson at Pinehurst 15 years ago, the two had a famous exchange on the 18th green because Lefty was about to become a father for the first time. Mickelson's daughter, Amy, was born the next day, and Stewart told him what a great experience that would be.

Stewart also made a prediction: "You'll win yours, you'll win yours."

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