Phil Mickelson may be peaking at just the right time in his quest to win his first-ever U.S. Open title next week at Pinehurst.
The five-time major champion has made no secret of his desire to join the exclusive club of golf’s elite five -- Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods -- who have captured the career grand slam. To do so by finally triumphing in his country’s national championship, which he has come oh-so-close to winning six times, would cap his Hall of Fame career.
That’s what this week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic is all about for Mickelson, who said on Wednesday that he had put any concerns about potential legal problems on hold as he prepared for next week at Pinehurst.
"Right now I’m just trying to win a U.S. Open," Mickelson told reporters at TPC Southwind in Memphis. "Right now I’m just trying to get my game ready to finish off that grand slam and I’ve got seven to 10 days here to really get my game sharp and ready. That’s really all I can worry about for now."
Mickelson has had more to consider than the worst start of his career, as he faced questions last week at the Memorial about news that he was part of a federal investigation into insider trading. But with three missed cuts, two injury-related withdrawals and no top-10 finishes on his scorecard for 2014, a 3-under 67 to kick off his pre-Pinehurst prep work was a good way to build confidence -- especially with short-game wizardry like he displayed on the fourth hole on Thursday.
"If I can get in contention and have a good opportunity going into this weekend, I think it would really help my odds and my chances next week," Mickelson said before logging five birdies and two bogeys on Thursday to walk off the course one shot behind early clubhouse leader Retief Goosen. "Last week I finished a lot of the rounds very poorly and I've got to get some momentum for next week and the best way to do that is to shoot low numbers."
There’s a lot of golf to go before Mickelson can put Memphis in the plus category, but it’s a start on a track on which he notched a T2 the week before that "heartbreaking" record sixth runner-up close at Merion. While NBC Sports noted that Mickelson would be the first golfer to bag a PGA Tour and a U.S. Open in consecutive weeks, Lefty probably would not mind trying to repeat the magic of his back-to-back Scottish Open-British Open Ws of last year.
"I’ve been able to be physically healthy and strong and able to swing the club the way I want to swing it and hit the shots I want to hit," said Mickelson, who battled an oblique injury earlier this year. "Now the last piece is being able to mentally block out the past performances of the last few months and focus on some good ones."