Phil Mickelson had a great, late surge at the FedEx St. Jude’s Classic, finishing tied for third with a closing round 65, which would leave many to think he’s close to his first win of 2015, except that the US Open is this week.
For all his wins, his good humor, fans, and ferocity, Mickelson has had two things elude him in his impressive career: the No. 1 ranking and a title at the US Open, which would complete his career Grand Slam.
It’s not as if he’s never had a shot to win the US Open, just the opposite. In 25 attempts, he’s made the cut 23 times and finished in the top 10 10 times. And, as pretty much everyone alive knows, he’s finished second six times, easily a record, but not one anyone would really want.
Here’s a look back at those six runner-up finishes, and a rating of how tough (1-5) each one has been for Lefty.
1999 – In hindsight, this one is the easiest to deal with, because Mickelson got to spend Sunday playing with Payne Stewart, the eventual champion, who would die four months later in a plane crash. Just 29 at the time, Mickelson was in the lead after the first two rounds and a shot back of Stewart after 54 holes, with Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods tied for third another stroke back. He tied Stewart at No. 10, and then took the lead briefly when Stewart bogeyed No. 12. and 15, only to give it back with a bogey of his own on 16. Stewart’s birdie on 17 proved the one-stroke difference. Tough luck rating: 2 – Mickelson was young, and as time has passed, the legacy of Stewart’s final win trumps everything else.
2002 – With Tiger Woods in full-on domination mode, Mickelson found himself eight strokes back after 36 holes at 3-over while Woods was 5-under. He made up three strokes of that on Saturday, and was within three of Woods thanks to a final-day 70, but it wasn’t enough to catch the Tiger by the tail. Tough luck rating: 1 – Tiger was in his prime, nobody was going to beat him.
2004 – Having started the year by winning the Masters, nobody was surprised when Mickelson shot a second-day 66 to sit tied for first. He fell back to second, two strokes behind Retief Goosen on Saturday, and was still down three strokes after 12 holes, only to catch Goosen at No. 15 thanks to birdies on 13, 15, and 16. All that momentum came crashing down when he double-bogeyed No. 17. Tough luck rating: 3 – Goosen had to stumble to even give Mickelson a chance on Sunday, but that double-bogey really does sting.
2006 – Ugh, just ugh. Mickelson was four strokes down after 36, but his Saturday 69 moved him up into a tie for first. Eleven players were within three strokes of the lead heading into Sunday, with Mickelson taking the lead for the first time on his own with a birdie on No. 4 that put him a stroke ahead of England’s Kenneth Ferrie. A string of three bogeys in six holes saw him fall behind Geoff Ogilvy by a stroke through 10 holes, but he retook the lead on No. 12. Through 15 holes, Mickelson was at 3-over, with Padraig Harrington +4 and Ogilvy, Jim Furyk, and Colin Montgomerie all +5. After the 17th, Mickelson and Montgomerie were tied at 4-over, with Ogilvy and Jim Furyk each a stroke back. The completely bizarre then happened. Ogilvy parred 18, Furyk bogeyed it, and Montgomerie and Mickelson each hit a double-bogey to give the Australian Ogilvy the title. Tough luck rating: 4 – A par on 18 would have given him the title. That stings badly.
2009 – The one you thought would be perfect, given that Mickelson announced he’d be taking time off afterwards to support his wife as she battled breast cancer. He wasn’t even in the Top 10 after two rounds, at 1-under and trailing Ricky Barnes by seven strokes, but shot a third-round 69 to get to 2-under. Over a rainy final two days, he made his move while other players stalled, drilling a gorgeous eagle on No. 13 to tie Lucas Glover at 4-under. Both men bogeyed No. 15, putting five men within one stroke of the lead, but Glover birdied 16 while Mickelson bogeyed 17 to wind up two strokes back. Tough luck rating: 2 – He never had the outright lead, and only tied for it with the shot of the tournament.
2013 – Mickelson led after all three of the first rounds, and the talk was rampant throughout of what he might do late to lose this time. He entered Sunday with a two-stroke lead of Hunter Mahan, Charl Schwartzel, and Steve Stricker; with another five players within four strokes apiece. His lead was gone after just three holes as he double-bogeyed No. 3 to drop a stroke behind Hunter Mahan. After birdying No. 4, another double bogey loomed on No. 5, sending him into a four-way tie for second. He was on the outside looking in until an eagle on 10 put him back in a three-way tie for the lead with Jason Day and Justin Rose, and he was all alone in first when both of them bogeyed 11. But again, the last few holes proved unkind for Left, who bogeyed 13, 15, and 18 while Rose used two birdies on 12 and 13 to win by two strokes. Tough luck rating: 5 – He led for the first 56 holes, and that eagle on 10 could have been the defining shot of his career. Instead, the thing everyone was waiting for to happen, happened.