By Steve Keating
(Reuters) - Throughout a good part of his career Phil Mickelson was the best golfer never to win a major but as "Lefty" turns 50 he has become golf's nearly man.
As in nearly won the U.S. Open (runner-up six times). Nearly won the career slam. Nearly climbed to number one in the world rankings.
The American owns five major titles, including three Masters Green Jackets, and 44 PGA Tour trophies. While he has collected over $91.2 million in career earnings, it is hard to brand Mickelson -- one of sport's most popular and marketable athletes who is also known as golf's loveable loser.
For all the money and wins, including a truck load of Ryder Cup and President Cup victories, Mickelson's legacy may centre around the one tournament he never won.
As he turns 50 and becomes eligible to play on the Champions Tour, Mickelson would appear to have more opportunity to win the U.S. Seniors Open than completing his career slam.
Mickelson, however, has provided no sign that he plans to go from the golf's big league to the senior's circuit.
"None whatsoever. No," Mickelson told ESPN in February when asked if a victory in the U.S. Senior Open would give him any satisfaction and if he had any interest in playing at all.
Of the 12 majors played since 2016, Mickelson has posted just one top 20 finish (18th in the 2019 Masters) and missed the cut in four events but he still refuses to write off his chances of exorcising his U.S. Open daemons.
Last year's U.S. Open played at Pebble Beach, where he had won five times, represented what Mickelson even admitted was his last best chance to complete the slam.
This year's tournament at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York, originally scheduled for June 18-21 now pushed back to Sept. 17-20 because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, may well be his last chance of any kind and even that would be a Hail Mary.
"The difficulty is that when you’re in your 20s you feel like you have multiple chances,” Mickelson said at the Memorial Tournament last year. "And when you’re turning 49, you’re like, I’ve got two more chances, this year, and maybe Winged Foot, and that’s about it.
"With that being the only one in the four that I haven’t won, and what it would offer me and how I look at my career, I put more pressure on it. That’s the difficult thing.”
Part of the fascination with Mickelson and the U.S. Open is not that he has come close to triumph so many times but that defeat has often been served up in the most gut-wrenching manner, so cruel that even those who are not fans have felt a tinge of sympathy.
It was at Winged Foot in 2006 where the golf gods may have been at their most sadistic.
Tied for the lead going into the final round and needing only to par the final hole to lift the trophy, Mickelson double-bogeyed the 18th to gift victory to Australia's Geoff Ogilvy.
"I really don't have many more chances," conceded Mickelson after last year's U. S. Open at Pebble Beach.
"Probably have to come to the realisation I'm not going to win the U.S. Open, but I'm not going to stop trying.
"I'll keep trying. You never know."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)