Memories and records, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have a lot to play for at US Open 2020

Mickelson will need to dig deep at 50 and that is going to be tough, but not impossible. He wants to erase painful memories of 2006, when he double bogeyed the 72nd hole and lost by one.

V Krishnaswamy September 17, 2020 18:14:01 IST
Memories and records, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have a lot to play for at US Open 2020

File image of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. AFP

The two legends of our times, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson nurse painful memories of Winged Foot, Circa 2006, the last time this fabled and incredibly tough golf course hosted a Major with the winner coming off with a 5-over total.

Woods missed the cut and Mickelson double bogeyed the 72nd to lose by one. Nine years before that, also at Winged Foot, but at the 1997 PGA Championship, Woods and Mickelson were for the first time in their pro career paired in the final group in a final round. Both shot 75 and ended Tied-29.

Winged Foot came around for its next Major in 2006. Both Woods and Mickelson wanted to correct an aberration. Back in 1997, when they first played together in a final round, Woods had just one Major and Mickelson had none. Now by 2006, Woods had 10 and Mickelson had three.

The year 2006 was a difficult one for Woods. It was the year he had lost his dad and was still dealing with the loss he had suffered less than two months earlier. However, a couple of months after that he won The Open at Royal Liverpool. It was one of the most emotional moments of his career, as he cried on the shoulders of his then caddie, Steve Williams.

Mickelson will need to dig deep at 50 and that is going to be tough, but not impossible. He wants to erase painful memories of 2006, when he double bogeyed the 72nd hole and lost by one. It was the closest he came in his six runner-up finishes at the US Open.

Now in a year, when the world itself has lost so much, Woods is at Winged Foot at Mamoroneck, New York, searching for a 16th Major, and Mickelson is looking for a sixth Major, and the one he needs to complete a Career Slam. If he does that at the age of 50, when he has already won his debut start on the Champions (Over 50s) Tour, it would be a fairy-tale story in his career.

Woods is grouped with Justin Thomas and the latest Major winner, Collin Morikawa. Mickelson, Paul Casey and Jon Rahm play the first two days together.

Since the leg injury which put him out after the incredible win at the 2008 US Open and then his personal travails, the latest comeback beginning with his own event at the 2017 Hero World Challenge has been fairly fruitful.

He has played with a regularity that is typical Woods – never too many in a row, except the time when he started 12 times in 20 weeks between May and September in 2018. He ended that with a win at the Tour Championship. He took 10 weeks off after that before coming out for his own Hero event in the Bahamas.

He took adequate care and rest and in 2019, he added his first Major since the 2008 US Open by winning his favourite, the Masters. A mixed run saw him make the FedExCup play-offs, but a withdrawal due to a back problem at Northern Trust and a middling finish at BMW saw him miss the Tour Championship, unable to defend a title he had won a year before that.

Ten weeks off again, and he then started at the ZOZO Championship and won it for his 82nd PGA Tour win to join Sam Snead. Six weeks later he almost won again at his own event, the HWC in the Bahamas.

It was a fair start to 2020 with a Top-10 at Farmers and a forgettable week at Genesis, but then came COVID-19 . He stayed away, first because there were no events and then because he wanted to be careful. He returned for a competitive round after 22 weeks. He has had four starts with a best of T-37 at PGA, made the play-offs but failed to make the Tour Championship once again.

“This year I really haven't putted as well as I wanted to,” said Woods. “And the times I did make a few swing mistakes, I missed it in the wrong spots. Consequently, I just didn't have the right looks at it. I've compounded mistakes here and there that ended up not making me able to make pars or a birdie run, and consequently I haven't put myself in contention to win events.”

The rough is really tough and high. Players could easily lose their golf balls with even slightly errant shots. The weather is predicted to be cool – Woods wore rain pants for warmth during the practice round he played with Justin Thomas, with whom he is paired for the first two days.

There are many others, who would want to be in sight of the Trophy on Sunday – ranging from Dustin Johnson, who despite being one of the most consistent stars, has just one Major, and similar is the case with Justin Thomas.

Brooks Koepka, the man who piled up four Majors in next to no time, is out with an injury, while Rory McIlroy, would love to present his new-born daughter a Major present.

Morikawa, just 23, has already won a Major, while fellow young stars, Matt Wolff, 21, and Viktor Hovland, 22, are showing promise of joining him. Wolff and Hovland play with Rickie Fowler, the one-time youngster, who despite all the promise is yet to win a Major. Indeed, there is a lot to play for a lot of the players.

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