Yet if Mickelson was going to crack, the place and time to do it yesterday would have been at the par-3 16th. He’d already clawed his way back from a 5-shot deficit and into the lead. His iron off the tee pierced the wind with a low trajectory and scooted onto the green at just the right speed to hold. Instead, it skittered off the right side and into a bunker.
“That was a bad break, but I was probably more bothered by it than he was,” Mackay said. “We walked up there. He saw it and said, ‘I can get it up and down.’ Pretty matter of fact. So I went, ‘Cool.’”
Mickelson did, then birdied No. 17, and walked up with a chance to do same at the 18th. A crowd of thousands packing the grandstands on either side of the fairway rose to their feet as one, clapping wildly. Mickelson made that curling left-to-right 10-footer to slam the door on the field behind him. Somehow, at 43, Mickelson isn’t simply holding his own, he appears to be turning back the clock.
“He’s stronger than he’s ever been. He’s fitter than he’s ever been. He’s hungrier than he’s ever been and you can understate how much he wants to compete and do well,” Mackay said.
“I joke around with him all the time that when he’s 60 on the putting green at Augusta, he’s going to say, ‘I got a chance.’ “
Maybe not. But a career Grand Slam hardly seems like a stretch anymore.
“I think that that’s the sign of the complete great player. And I’m a leg away. And it’s been a tough leg for me,” Mickelson said to laughter, “but I think that’s the sign. I think there’s five players that have done that. And those five players are the greats of the game. You look at them with a different light.
“And if I were able to ever win a U.S. Open, and I’m very hopeful that I will — but it has been elusive for me. And yet,” he said finally, “this championship has been much harder for me to get.”