Mickelson on Pinehurst: 'Best opportunity' to win

Phil Mickelson during Tuesday's practice round at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2.

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U.S. Open

Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort (No. 2)

6/12/2014 - 6/15/2014

Pos Name Thru Today Overall
1 Martin Kaymer $1,620,000 600 -9
2 Erik Compton $789,330 270 -1
2 Rickie Fowler $789,330 270 -1
4 Henrik Stenson $326,310 115 +1
4 Jason Day $326,310 115 +1
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PINEHURST, N.C. – Forget about wondering whether Phil Mickelson will win the U.S. Open this week. He already is on the record as saying he believes he’s going to win the U.S. Open not once, but twice before it’s all said and done. That from a guy who has finished runner-up in the event a record six times.

How’s that for confidence?

Now, with one leg remaining for the career grand slam after winning the Open Championship at Muirfield last summer, Mickelson is back where the close calls began, a one-stroke defeat at the hands of Payne Stewart at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999.

He gushed about the place Tuesday during his news conference, saying the course, the setup “and everything about Pinehurst provides me the best opportunity.”

The lack of rough brings the most exciting shot in golf – the recovery shot – into play, and the opportunity to turn bogeys into birdies. Short game is at a premium, and yet to Mickelson, the driver is the club that “could kind of make or break” his week, he said. His strategy is to get as close to the greens as possible because the greens are “repellant.”

Still, Mickelson’s chances this week likely will hinge on whether or not his putter behaves. He has struggled all year on the greens, ranking 103rd in strokes gained-putting.

“You can’t win any golf tournament putting the way I’ve been putting,” he said. “I should have won (the FedEx St. Jude Classic) by eight strokes if I putted worth . . . decent.”

Laughter ensued. But this is no joke: Mickelson used the claw putting stroke during the final round in Memphis, and after a morning consultation from putting guru Dave Stockton, has elected to use the stroke this week in his bid to win the Open.

“I’ve been popping it,” Mickelson said. “I want to create more of a brush stroke.”

Mickelson has been pointing to this week almost since he took his first sip from the Claret Jug. He said he feels as good about his game as he has all year, before adding, “It’s not saying a lot because I haven’t played well all year.”

But he feels that spark in the fire. He said he felt it last week in Memphis. “I saw glimpses, and I felt it again today. I don’t want to get overly excited because the pressure of a U.S. Open and having not been in contention, that’s going to be a challenge for me,” Mickelson said.

Don’t underestimate the significance of the pressure he faces in attempting to join an exclusive group of five golfers who have won the career Grand Slam.

“I tend to do something, play better – like at Muirfield last year when nobody really expects it – and I just kind of come out of nowhere and know that I can do it and not really have to answer questions about it,” he said.

And just how much would it mean to Mickelson if he were to complete the career Grand Slam this week?

“If I’m able to do that," Mickelson said, "I feel that I would look upon my own career differently."

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