“For me, it’s very heartbreaking. This is very possibly my best chance to win the Open with the way I was playing, where I was [leading after three rounds] and how much I loved this golf course,” said Mickelson. “This one’s probably the toughest for me, because at 43 and coming so close five times, it would have changed the way I look at this tournament altogether and the way I would have looked at my record. Except I just keep feeling heartbreak.”
Mickelson said it with such absence of theatricality, no play for pity, just pointing out that it was his own fault for those two double bogeys on the front, those two lousy wedge shots on the back, that he handed away his chance, that you wanted to say, “Pick it up, Phil, that one’s good.”
But, you can’t.
When young, Mickelson had a strain of phony, which he gradually got out of his system. He grew, fixed a couple of bad habits and won the Masters three times. He signs every autograph. He wants to help you, he really does. What Arnold Palmer once was to his fans — really there in the moment, looking you in the eye, appreciating your feelings for him — that’s the final mature version of Mickelson.
On course, he’s a spectacularly gifted, brave and sometimes recklessly silly golfer. He makes your best mistakes, plus the shots you can’t even imagine are possible. He’s a golf genius, honest. But he’s not Open champ.
Yet there was one moment when the 25,000 here would’ve sworn he would be, when every kind of karma was on his side. When his wedge-shot eagle on the 10th disappeared, Mickelson jumped in the air three times, pumping both arms over his head, then exchanged a fist bang with caddie Jim (Bones) Mackay.
That was the shot, so typical of Mickelson — the eagle to undo the damage of an unnecessary double bogey — that would be replayed forever. Then Rose made back-to-back birdies ahead of him at the 12th and 13th holes to claim the lead alone once more. And Mickelson never got it back.
At the 18th, Mickelson needed to sink a nearly impossible 40-yard shot from off the green to tie. He missed the pin by a foot, rolled off the back and took a bogey, creating the final two-shot margin. But if he’d merely needed to get up and down, he probably would have.
Will Phil ever have another day, another chance, like this one? Maybe not. But he has three green jackets to go with his six long black mourning coats. He has a PGA Championship, too. He has wins by the dozen, fans by the millions and something that even trophies can’t truly duplicate.
Faced with the worst experience his game could offer, and a sixth dose of that bile to boot, Phil Mickelson showed the absolute best in himself.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/