It feels cold. Cruel even.
Something about it just makes you want to shudder. Like the man said, there are a lot more important things in life, and now is the time to focus on them.
But it’s a feeling that is hard to shake, and one that just won’t go away.
And so, even with the circumstances hovering over Phil Mickelson and his family, the question creeps into the mind and cannot be avoided.
Did Mickelson choke away another U.S. Open on Monday?
One can feel dirty even allowing the subject to surface. After all, the man not only made the cut at the Open just weeks after finding out his beloved wife has breast cancer, he contended all week through all the starts and mostly stops on what is considered to be golf’s toughest test of the season.
Even yours truly said on the air Wednesday that just making it to the weekend would be amazing, and that just being in the hunt over the final 18 could parallel some of the greatest achievements in Lefty’s often brilliant career.
And that’s the problem — there’s always a “but” when it comes to Phil Mickelson.
In a span of 17 holes as the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black finally finished on Monday, Lefty played a round that was strikingly emblematic of his career. There were impeccable peaks. (The dart he threw at the par-5 13th flag, resulting in an eagle that vaulted him into a share of the lead, was the kind of shotmaking that carried Mickelson to three major championships.) But there were also heartbreaking valleys. (The missed 3-footers for pars on 15 and 17 were reminiscent of the fade on the back nine at Augusta this year, or missed chances at Bethpage in 2002, or at the 2001 PGA Championship. Or all the others.)
That Lucas Glover, he of one whole PGA Tour victory in his career, never lost the lead over the final 12 holes has probably already been forgotten, and possibly, never even known. If Glover becomes the next Geoff Ogilvy, then fine, but this Open will likely be remembered for how Mickelson might have given it away, a lot like the Open he gift-wrapped for Ogilvy at Winged Foot in 2006.
Mickelson had trouble closing the door before Winged Foot, but he seemed like he was beyond the worst until he made the turn there that fateful Sunday. He had won three majors and was on his way to a fourth and third consecutive, making copy editors around the word giddy with the thought of plastering “MICKELSLAM” in 100-point headlines if he were to win the British Open that year.
But everything changed in the majors for Phil since Way Left Winged Foot. While Lefty showed every bit as much toughness — maybe even more — this week as he did in flat-out taking the Masters in 2004 by playing the final seven holes in 5 under to steal the green jacket from Ernie Els, the end result is still hard to mask.
A bogey on the treacherous 15th hole — the hardest hole this week at Bethpage — does not appear to be such a misstep when looking at the scorecard. But it’s how Lefty made bogey — with another missed short putt — that robs the chance to make apologies for him. The same can be said for the par-3 17th, where he failed to get up-and-down after missing the green short, falling two strokes back after Glover birdied 16.
And yes, had Mickelson parred-out after the eagle, he would’ve likely just been in a playoff with Glover. But the Open is a tough deal, and sharing the lead over the last three holes, with the prospect looming of another 18 against the world’s No. 2 player in the world and the overwhelming sentimental favorite, is a lot different than owning a two-stoke lead.
And so it ended as a fifth second-place finish in the U.S. Open for Mickelson, a record. And while he didn’t do it in down-in-flames fashion like Ricky Barnes, Mickelson’s stumble to the finish was even more agonizing.
What’s worse is that many could see it coming. Barnes’ collapse was expected, but in a way, so was Lefty’s.
Golf fans like Mickelson because he’s everything Tiger Woods is not. Phil smiles. Phil acknowledges the crowd. Phil high-fives the gallery. Phil goes for broke and signs a ton of autographs and aw-shucks it in the press tent.
But the No. 2 player in the world should make those putts. Period. Go ahead and say it: Woods would not have lost if he shared the lead with five holes to play.
Still, Mickelson was great at Bethpage, playing every round either 1 under or even par. He made a dazzling charge, making bombs of putts to go with a stirring eagle.
But was it enough to explain away his foibles on the holes that mattered the most?
The problem is that even after some of Mickelson’s best performances, the question still lingers.
And it’s not going anywhere.
At least not for now.