Who should we root for? Phil or Tiger?
Golf’s U.S. Open is upon us once again, bringing with it the most delightful of possibilities: Tiger wins. Or Phil does.
The law of averages says neither will happen, but we can dream, can’t we?
While the symmetrical perfection of Tiger Woods winning the U.S. Open 10 years after he last won it or any major title would be something to behold, I’m all in for Phil Mickelson.
If there ever were a golfer who deserved to win one particular tournament, it would be Phil and the U.S. Open. It’s the one major tournament he has never won. Tiger has won it three times: 2000, 2002 and 2008. Phil has finished second a crushing six times, which is a record nobody wants but he unenviably holds.
This is his 27th U.S. Open, the most of anyone in the field. Were he to win it, he would complete the career Grand Slam, becoming just the sixth male golfer to do so. (He has won three Masters, one British Open and one PGA Championship.)
He turns 48 on Saturday during the third round. If he wins, he would be the oldest man to ever win a U.S. Open. Since his last second-place finish in a U.S. Open in 2013, he has tied for 28th, tied for 64th, missed the cut and missed the tournament for his daughter’s high school graduation.
Need I go on?
The story line is set. You can see the Sunday celebration on the 18th green even now, can’t you? Amy, the kids, the hugging that could go on until Tuesday.
If you’re cheering for Tiger, you’re all about the comeback. Having already lived a lifetime or two or seven at the age of 42, he has teased us with those excellent rounds the past few months, only to not be able to quite close the deal on Sunday. If we were to get in a time machine and go back to Torrey Pines to tell the 2008 version of ourselves that Tiger would go major-less for the next 10 years, our younger selves would be incredulous. But here we are. That, too, is a story line for the ages.
“Unfinished business” was the topic of a question or two for Mickelson in a news conference at Shinnecock Hills this week. As in, all those second-place finishes, including one at the windswept Long Island course in 2004.
“I can say that a few times in this tournament,” Mickelson said. “I love the challenge. I mean, I really love the challenge, and I love that I have another opportunity to try and complete the career Grand Slam.”
In his two previous U.S. Opens at Shinnecock, he was close: a tie for fourth in 1995 and that second-place finish in 2004, undone by double-bogeys near the end both times, most notably an excruciating three-putt from 5 feet on the par-3 17th during difficult, dry conditions to lose to Retief Goosen by two strokes 14 years ago.
But such heartache also gives Mickelson hope.
“I think that this is certainly one of my favorite courses,” he said of Shinnecock. “It’s the best setup in my opinion that we’ve seen, and the reason I say that is all areas of your game are being tested. … Certainly, with the way I’ve been playing this year and at the consistency level, as well as at a much higher level than I’ve played the last few years, gives me a great opportunity.
“But the last thing I’m thinking about right now is trying to win. I’m trying to get myself in position for the weekend because, when you try to go out and win a U.S. Open, you will lose it quick.”
He knows. We all know. Tiger coming back to win a U.S. Open would be one of the sports stories of the century. But a Hall of Famer nearing 50 who has never won his national championship finally winning it?
I’ll take that one.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are the sentimental favorites at the U.S. Open this week.