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Archive for Thursday, August 15, 2002

Mickelson on a mission

Golfer ready for latest attempt to win first major

August 15, 2002

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— Phil Mickelson can explain how to make the ball spin sideways when it lands on the green. He knows the depth chart of nearly every NFL team. He can fly a plane. He can tell you about black holes and constellations.

He has an answer for everything except the question on everyone's mind.

Phillip Prince, left, fires from the sand bunker on to the seventh
green as Stephan Ames, right, watches. The two were preparing
Wednesday for the PGA Championship, which begins today at Hazeltine
National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.

Phillip Prince, left, fires from the sand bunker on to the seventh green as Stephan Ames, right, watches. The two were preparing Wednesday for the PGA Championship, which begins today at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.

Why haven't you won a major?

"I know how to fix it, and I'm trying to resolve that," Mickelson said.

There is only one solution.

His next chance to win and last chance this year starts today in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club, a course Mickelson knows better than most of his contemporaries.

Mickelson has been so good for so long that he qualified for the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine as a 20-year-old amateur and tied for 55th.

"When I played here as an amateur, no one expected me to play well," he said.

Mickelson is a special talent. He has 21 victories on the PGA Tour, which puts him in elite company just not the kind he prefers. Only Harry "Lighthorse" Cooper (31) and MacDonald Smith (24) have won more times on tour without claiming a major championship.

And while Mickelson has never held the 54-hole lead in a major, he has finished second or third in five of the last 14 majors, dating to his runner-up finish to Payne Stewart at the 1999 U.S. Open.

The burden of being the best player never to have won a major is getting about as big as the Mall of America.

"I truly feel from the bottom of my heart that he's going to win several majors," good friend Tom Lehman said. "Once he wins, he's going to win a bunch. You can write that down and mark my words on it."

That won't make the task any easier at Hazeltine.

Tiger Woods is the favorite this week and every week, the result of winning seven of the last 12 majors. Other top contenders in the strongest field ever at a major championship include British Open champion Ernie Els and defending PGA champion David Toms.

All of them have what Mickelson doesn't concrete proof they have the game and the mettle to win a major.

"Guys that have won multiple tour events but never won a major, they still have that doubt," Toms said. "I know Phil Mickelson probably has that doubt in the back of his mind. Everybody keeps asking about the majors. That probably weighs on him coming down the stretch."

Woods is more likely to remember his eight major victories than his 81 in the British Open should he find himself in contention yet again. If it looks like majors come easily to Woods, there's a reason besides the fact that he's very good.

"Because I won one early in my career (the '97 Masters), it certainly relaxed me in knowing that I could handle it," he said. "That took a big burden off of me. Winning that one, I think, set me up for the rest. And then from there, once I put myself in contention, I could always say, 'I've done it before.'"

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