He’s been playing this tournament longer than many of his competitors have been alive. He’s got almost a full week’s worth of bridesmaid’s dresses. He’s Phil Mickelson, he’s one U.S. Open short of the career Grand Slam, and his constant, quixotic pursuit of this final Infinity Stone has been one of golf’s most enduring narratives for the last quarter-century.
What’s made Phil’s quest so agonizing is that he’s come in second so many times. He’s been right there! A quick breakdown:
1999, Pinehurst No. 2: Tied with Payne Stewart with two to go, Mickelson couldn’t match Stewart’s birdie-par finish. Stewart famously embraced Mickelson, who had been carrying a beeper in case his wife went into labor.
2002, Bethpage Black: Not really that much of a heartbreaker, as Mickelson began the round five strokes behind Tiger Woods and could only close to within three.
2004, Shinnecock Hills: Mickelson held the lead with two holes to play, but double-bogeyed 17 to allow Retief Goosen to slip past him.
2006, Winged Foot: The worst of them all. Standing on the 18th tee on Sunday, Mickelson needed only a par to win, a bogey to force a playoff. He got neither, and Geoff Ogilvy had the trophy drop into his lap.
2009, Bethpage Black: Again with the New York heartbreak. Mickelson fought his way into a tie for the lead on the 13th hole, but Lucas Glover outdistanced him down the stretch.
2013, Merion: Leading on the final day, Mickelson double-bogeyed two of his first five holes, then bogeyed three of the final six. Justin Rose edged past him to win by two, the third golfer — after Glover and Ogilvy — to deny Mickelson in their only major win.
What are the odds of someone of Mickelson’s caliber finishing second in six U.S. Opens without winning one? Per our friends at BetMGM, we have an answer: 500-1.
That’s right, Mickelson would be +50000 — that is, bet $100 and you get back $50,000 — to finish second in six of the 28 U.S. Opens he’s played.
Granted, oddsmaking isn’t an exact science; tracking down and validating precise historical odds from Mickelson’s earliest tournaments is impossibly complicated. But this gives you a sense of just how unlikely it is that Mickelson would get this close without ever closing the deal.
For comparison’s sake: Phil is +8000 — that is, 80-1 — to win this year’s tournament. Granted, that number is a bit lower to guard against the casual what-the-hell, throw-some-money-on-Phil bettor, but still ... if you’d found a bookie willing to take second-place-Phil action way back when, you’d be smiling, even if Phil isn’t.
“I really don't have many more chances,” he said. “Probably have to come to the realization 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.”
He’ll give it another go this week at Winged Foot, the one that hurt the most.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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