It is beyond obvious to comment that there has been generational changing of the guards and, in truth, there was very little symbolic in this pair’s premature exit through the Winged Foot gates. Yet such has been the influence of this duo on America’s national championship in the past two decades-plus that it was still humbling to see their standing reduced so pitifully at the notorious New York venue.
It was not even a fight to survive for them both, it was more a race to get it over with. Woods missed the cut by four on 10 over par while Mickelson, courtesy of Thursday’s 79 – his highest score in 28 US Opens – missed by seven on 13 over. They were back in their mansions by the time the third round began.
What next? Well, the Masters in November, of course, and you had better believe that these Augusta specialists will play big roles there. If there is one course where their experience can count… etc.
However, if there is one event where their limitations will be most cruelly exposed then it is surely the US Open and it must be wondered whether Woods and Mickelson will contend again.
Even though Woods’ 10-year exemption, as a former winner, has expired and even if he tumbles out of the world’s top 60 (he is currently 21st) he can take his place in the field until 2024, if he chooses, by dint of last year’s Masters triumph.
Mickelson’s US Open future, though, is far more doubtful and that is why there was a rush of valedictory tributes for a player who came closer than any other in any other major to winning without actually doing so.
With six runners-up finishes, five in which he was still in contention on the 72nd hole… for a long time it seemed as if this was the major he was most likely to win. But now it is almost certainly the only major he is destined never to win. And that is more important than whether or not he ever gets another chance to be on the startsheet.
As it is, it would take a brave/daft punter to back on that being it for Mickelson as far as the US Open is concerned. He is 52nd in the world, won a World Golf Championship two years ago and, on the right track where his wayward driving is not so severely punished, his magical short game can still deliver garlands.
There are other routes, as well, although many query if the left-hander would enter the US Seniors Open (from which the winner is invited to the US Open proper) or if he would accept a special invitation from the US Golf Association, a body with which he has not always seen eye to eye.
For now, Mickelson is simply coming to terms with a performance that seemed genuinely to shock the 50-year-old. “I’ve been playing very well at home, and I get out here where the penalty for a mis-hit is severe, and I find myself getting a little tight and a little ‘steery’, and playing some of my worst golf,’ he said.
“And that’s something I’ve got to work on. When I go back home, I don’t have the stress and play just fine, but I’ve got to be able to bring it out here under these conditions.”
He was asked if he thought this was his last US Open. “I don’t know,” he replied and it would be a shame if he did not receive the farewell he deserves, with packed grandstands instead of the eerie Covid silence.
It will be intriguing where Mickelson is next seen, whether that is among the seniors or on the PGA Tour. Woods indicated he was ready for a break after an exhibition match to signify the opening of his first public golf course design in Missouri.
Before Augusta he will have the chance to pass Sam Snead’s record of 83 PGA Tour wins when he defends the Zozo Championship at Sherwood Country Club in California.
“There’s still one more major to go, and my title defence at Sherwood,” Woods said. “We have a couple of big, big things ahead of us …. I’ll take a little break and then refocus.”
Like Mickelson, his driving will be the lead item on the fix list. “It was frustrating that I didn’t drive the ball as well as I needed to,” Woods said. “It’s frustrating that I’m not going to be here for the weekend and be able to compete for this great championship.
“It feels like the way the golf course is changing, is turning, that anybody who makes the cut has the opportunity to win this championship. I didn’t get myself that opportunity.”