Phil Mickelson can joke about it now, far removed from the "heartbreak" of his record sixth runner-up finish at the U.S. Open at Merion 12 months ago.
But that’s exactly what Lefty did on Saturday at Pinehurst when the five-time major champion, who’s way out of contention for his first Open win after shooting a 2-over 72 in his third round, quipped that a decent round on Sunday could land him another bridesmaid finish.
"If I play well -- if I hit it better and make some putts," Mickelson cracked to reporters after signing for a round that featured three bogeys and a birdie, "I think I can shoot 4- or 5-under, end around even, finish second again."
Laughter ensued for this week’s -- and really, any week in which the 43-year-old tees it up in competition -- sentimental favorite. Indeed, Rory McIlroy may have been the oddsmakers’ pick to win his second U.S. Open and third major title before Martin Kaymer went all Tiger Woods on Thursday and Friday, but the crowd was pulling for Mickelson.
The 42-time PGA Tour winner has had the worst start to his professional career, missing three cuts and posting no top-10 finishes in 14 appearances in the 2013-2014 season. But, as always with the people’s choice, things were looking up, even in his putting, which has been so "pathetic," he briefly reverted to the claw grip he had used some time ago, only to go back to a more neutral clasp.
"You know, my results aren't very good, but my game doesn't feel bad," he said. "I'm not discouraged about my game. I'm not watered about it. I just -- I haven't quite put it together yet. But I'm excited about the fact that this year my driving, it took a whole different turn."
Even his work on the greens on Saturday drew rave reviews from the guy formerly known as a short-game wizard.
"Putted great for me," Mickelson said. "For me, I putted really good."
Phil fans wondering about his chances for that coveted second slot -- it doesn’t look good. Despite shooting a 2-over 72 on a day when Pinehurst finally bared its teeth, Martin Kaymer, at 8-under, maintained a five-shot lead over Rickie Fowler and Erik Compton. Mickelson, 5-over for the week, was in a five-way tie for 30th heading into Sunday's finale.