Nine-times major champion Gary Player believes Phil Mickelson faces a “monumental task” to achieve a clean sweep of major wins and said it would be “eating him alive” if he was perennial nearly-man Lee Westwood.
Mickelson has set his sights on joining Player, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods by landing the full set of all four of golf’s top prizes.
The 43-year-old American has five majors to his name, having also captured three Masters crowns and one US PGA Championship, and needs a first win in the US Open to complete a career sweep.
“That is going to be the biggest challenge of all the majors for him,” South African Player told the BBC. “Because he is not a good driver and when you play the US Open you will have to use your driver. This is a monumental task for him but he has got that thing called ‘it’, which the majority of people don’t have. I think he will probably win it.
“You can’t describe it,” added the super-fit 77-year-old who attended last week’s Open in East Lothian and still looks as lean and trim as he did in his heyday. “It is a gift that is loaned to you from the man above.”
Mickelson said a US Open triumph would cement his status as one of the greats. “If I am able to make it a career grand slam, I think that’s the sign of the complete great player,” he said. “I am one leg away and it’s been a tough leg. There are five players who have done that and they are the greats of the game – you look at them in a different light.”
Mickelson won the US Masters in 2004, 2006 and 2010 and the US PGA Championship in 2005.
He said on Sunday the key to his three-stroke win over Swede Henrik Stenson in the third major of the year was his birdie at the par-3 13th. “I was behind the whole day and one-over-par for the championship,” explained Mickelson. “I hit a really good 5-iron at the 13th to 10 feet and I knew that was a putt that was going to make the rest of the round go one way or the other. It went in and it gave me a nice momentum boost because it’s very hard to make birdies out here. You’re not going to hit it to tap-in distance, you’re going to have to make some putts.
“That was a critical putt because I made another birdie at 14, made some good pars at 15 and 16 and when I was walking up 17, that was the moment when I had to compose myself because there I hit the best two three-woods I’ve ever hit,” said Mickelson. “That is why I don’t have a driver in the bag, those two 3-woods were my best two shots of the week and got me on the green. As I walked up to the green, that was when I realised this is very much a championship in my control.”
Westwood looked the likeliest winner of the British Open when he went into the final round holding a two-stroke lead over the field. The 40-year-old Briton, however, wasted a glorious opportunity to end his wait for a breakthrough major victory at the 62nd attempt as he slumped to a closing 75.
“He has to be bitterly disappointed,” said Player. “He was in the perfect position to win the Open. Over the last five years he has been the best striker in the game from tee to green. I said to my family if he hits the greens and fairways he will win, but he was missing greens with 8-irons, he was hitting the worst shots I’ve ever seen him hit. It was one of those days. It would be eating me alive, but I am different.”
Westwood, meanwhile, has admitted he would relish the chance to be a Ryder Cup captain – but not just yet.
Westwood, who helped Europe to an astonishing comeback victory at the Medinah Country Club in September last year, hopes to add to his eight appearances in the competition before contemplating leading the team. He said: “I would love to be the captain of the Ryder Cup team. That would be a great honour.
“There have been some fantastic Ryder Cup captains and it would be lovely to follow in their footsteps. But I plan on playing in a few more just before that.”
Westwood’s comments came as he played in a Ryder Cup-style competition to mark the official opening of the Lee Westwood Filly Course at Close House Golf Club near Wylam in Northumberland, two days after he let a two-shot lead slip away at the Open as Mickelson took the title.
Westwood, who is yet to win one of the majors, said: “Obviously, I was a little bit disappointed not to play well on the last day and to win the Open Championship, but as a golfer, you have to take the positives whenever you can. You don’t win very often and it was a top-three [finish] in another major championship.
“I didn’t feel like I had my best game but I still had a two-shot lead going into the final round, so that’s a positive.”