Pain of Troon defeat lingers for Phil Mickelson

If you thought two weeks was enough time for Phil Mickelson to get over his second-place finish in The Open duel with Henrik Stenson, guess again.

Phil Mickelson prepares to putt on the 18th green during a practice round at Baltusrol, New Jersey. Picture: AP
Phil Mickelson prepares to putt on the 18th green during a practice round at Baltusrol, New Jersey. Picture: AP

“Lefty” admits it’s going to take a long time to get over his Royal Troon disappointment, probably longer than any of his other excruciating losses in a major.

The hurt wasn’t because Mickelson missed out on either his sixth major or his first win since the 2013 Open. This was the first time the 46-year-old played his best, and it wasn’t good enough.

The 40-year-old Stenson won his first major with a record-shattering 20-under total. Mickelson’s 267 final total would have won every previous Open except in 1993, when Greg Norman shot 267 at Royal St George’s.

“I think it’s one of those things where I’ll look back over time and my disappointment will probably increase, because I think it’s the first time in my career that I have played to that level of golf and not had it be enough to win a tournament,” Mickelson said ahead of the US PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club. “That’s a disappointing thing because I would have loved to have added another Claret Jug.”

Jordan Spieth, who played a practice round with Michelson on Tuesday, walked over to his playing partner and told him it was fun to watch him, and that he was unlucky not to win.

“And that’s when he said, ‘Hey, I’ve been on that side of things [lately], Masters in ’15, and Troon even more so two weeks ago,” Spieth said. “But then he’s seen himself on the other side of things where no one is running away with it and he wins in a close battle or he wins by a lot, whether it’s in a major or regular tour event.”

Mickelson believes he will win again. He feels his game is improving, his swing is back and he likes the Baltusrol course. He validated his first major – the 2004 Masters – by capturing the 2005 PGA here with a 72nd-hole birdie.

His goal this week is to play as well as he did at Troon. “I don’t believe that there is a small window,” Mickelson said of winning again. “I think there’s a really big window of opportunity to add to my resumé, to continue to compete in big events, for the simple reason that the feel and sensitivity of hitting shots; the ability to play golf courses a certain way, to visualise, to make birdies, to pull shots off, that has not diminished.”

Mickelson said the key at Baltusrol is to drive the ball straight and putt well on greens that have a lot of contours. “There’s a lot of little rolls and knolls,” said Mickelson, noting the greens will roll a lot faster than Troon. “You can see multiple lines and only one of them is correct, and it’s sometimes hard to see.”

What many people would like to see would be another Mickelson-Stenson showdown. The Swede said he has not had a chance to talk with Mickelson since The Open.

“It’s one of those things, it doesn’t really strike you when you’re in the middle of it,” Stenson said “But afterwards, with the 63 and the 20-under and the way we played, we pushed each other to the limit, both of us, for 36 holes more or less, and trading punches and blows all the way around the golf course for two days. That certainly is what made us play so well. We both wanted it badly and we performed so well because of each other.”

While Stenson heads into the tournament on a major high world No 1 Jason Day admits he is running on empty ahead of his title defence after completing an unwanted grand slam of disrupted preparation for this year’s majors.

After suffering with a back problem before the Masters, a cold at the US Open and a rib injury scare at The Open, Day arrived at Baltusrol feeling under the weather and then spent Tuesday evening at a hospital after his wife suffered an allergic reaction. The 28-year-old will therefore defend his first major title after just one practice round yesterday and could lose his position as world No 1 if he finishes 29th or worse and Dustin Johnson is outright second or better.

“I haven’t seen the course. I don’t know what it looks like,” said Day. “I was with Doug 
Steffen, the head pro, last night at the champions’ dinner. I went through pretty much every hole with him for about 20, 30 minutes.”

Despite problems with his preparation, Day finished tenth in the Masters and eighth in the US Open, while being on the “wrong” side of the draw at The Open contributed to a tie for 22nd.

“I think if you try a little bit too hard sometimes, you can kind of shoot yourself in the foot. I think that’s what I did in the first two majors,” he added. “I’ve got to really try and manage my patience out there, because I have very little patience right now. Just for some reason, every time I get a little bit under the weather, I’ve got zero patience.”