Mickelson chases elusive US Open win

Veteran American golfer will try to complete career Grand Slam on his hometown course of Torrey Pines

AFP June 12, 2021


Phil Mickelson will try to complete a career Grand Slam on his hometown course while long-driving Bryson DeChambeau defends his first major title in next week's US Open.

The 121st US Open begins Thursday at Torrey Pines on the coastal cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, the same golf course where Tiger Woods outlasted Rocco Mediate in an epic playoff to win the 2008 US Open on a broken leg.

"How much pain he went through, how much struggle and strife and agony he went through, all that pain, and to come out on top is something that is unfathomable," DeChambeau said. "It has inspired me to work even harder."

Woods, an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, won't be competing after suffering severe leg injuries in a February car crash, but there will still be drama on the layout where the US PGA Tour's Farmers Insurance Open is staged annually.

Mickelson, a left-hander from nearby San Diego, shocked the golf world last month by winning his sixth major title at the PGA Championship on Kiawah Island, becoming the oldest major champion in history at age 50.

Ageless wonder Mickelson, three times a PGA event winner at Torrey Pines, turns 51 on Wednesday and has people wondering if fate has handed him one last chance at winning a US Open after a record six runner-up efforts.

"I do believe that if I stay sharp mentally I can play well at Torrey Pines," Mickelson said. "I'm going to put everything I have into it."

That has meant two weeks of work preparing his game, mentally and physically, at Torrey Pines.

"I'll spend time on the greens and really try to be sharp," Mickelson said. "Because I know that I'm playing well and this could very well be my last really good opportunity to win a US Open."

Mickelson could become the sixth golfer to capture the four major titles, joining a career Grand Slam group that includes Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.

Fifth-ranked DeChambeau captured last September's US Open at Winged Foot with a ball-blasting style that cared little about landing areas, counting on shorter distance to make approaches easier and putts shorter.

The strategy paid off in a major win but fears DeChambeau might overwhelm golf courses have proven unfounded. While he won again at Bay Hill in March and has drawn wild cheers with some spectacular drives, DeChambeau only shared 34th and 46th at the past two Masters and 38th at May's PGA.

The US Open is known for formidable rough, the sort that could force the American to change his maximum distance tactics.

"We go and practice that week to see if it's feasible to hit 7-irons out, pitching wedge out of it, hit 4-iron out of it even," DeChambeau said.

"If it's not, then we literally have to change our dynamics and our course thought, depending on where long rough is, where I can essentially hit it."

Spain's third-ranked Jon Rahm, the 2017 Farmers winner, tested positive for Covid-19 last weekend at the Memorial and was forced into isolation until the eve of the US Open, dimming his hopes even if able to play.

Ninth-ranked American Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, won the most recent PGA Tour title at Torrey Pines in January and takes confidence from that.

"I definitely take good vibes from it," Reed said. "It's Torrey Pines. You have to hit the fairway, you have to hit greens, you got to make putts.

"Any time you're playing a US Open you know how penalizing the rough's going to be, so you got to have full control over your golf ball. You have to go and hit fairways and attack the golf course."

World number 10 Rory McIlroy, whose first major title came a decade ago, snapped an 18-month win drought last month at Quail Hollow but hasn't won a major since the 2014 PGA. He shared 16th at the Farmers in January.

"I don't think they're going to set the golf course up super differently in terms of fairway widths or anything like that," McIlroy said.

"But the rough is going to be a little thicker. The whole course is probably just going to be a little firmer. They might move around tees and stuff... so it's a good recipe for a high-scoring event."

Eighth-ranked Brooks Koepka, like McIlroy a four-time major winner, feels back on form after knee surgery in March.

"I feel comfortable," he said. "The knee's not really an issue anymore."

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