2014 U.S. Open: Phil Mickelson must work on ‘pathetic’ putting, Inbee Park pleased with Pinehurst prep

Christian Petersen

Phil Mickelson says he needs to tighten his iron play and short game ahead of this week’s U.S. Open, while Inbee Park will roll into Pinehurst a week later for the U.S. Women’s Open on top of her game.

Lefty must putt well to win at Pinehurst

Phil Mickelson claims his game is almost back to form ahead of this week’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst, while Inbee Park says the timing of her first victory since last year’s U.S. Women’s Open could not have been better.

"I’m excited. I love the golf course," Mickelson, who has the chance this week to complete the career grand slam if he can overcome the runner-up-itis that began that fateful Sunday back in 1999 when he finished second to Payne Stewart at Pinehurst, told reporters on Sunday.

Matching his best close of the season last week in Memphis (T11), despite a lackluster final-round 2-over 72, Mickelson was looking forward to showing off his renewed short-game skills on a renovated Pinehurst track that would seem to fit him like a golf glove. Scrambling from off the fairway and green may be one of the keys to success this week in North Carolina.

"If nobody hit a green, I feel like my chances are the best," said Mickelson, who hit one of his patented flop shots on Thursday, on his way to an opening-round 67.

"As long as that golf course is playing long and as difficult as those greens are to hit, short game is going to be a huge factor," said Lefty. "If I can salvage par, get up and down, I should have a good chance."

Mickelson, without a top-10 finish yet this season, acknowledged he was happier with some parts of his game than others.

"I’m driving it very well," said Mickelson, who, inveterate tinkerer that he is, terms his efforts on the greens "pathetic," even after going back to the putter he had in his hands when he won the 2013 British Open and reverting to the claw grip during Sunday’s finale.

"I need to putt a lot better than I did this week and I have a few things in my irons to work on but, for the most part, pretty solid four days," said Mickelson, who was T12 in greens in regulation, led the FedEx St. Jude Classic field in sand saves but also in double bogeys and 3-plus bogeys for the week.

He’ll start Thursday’s contest as the sentimental (if not the odds-on) favorite to win, which would cap his Hall of Fame career. A victory would put him in elite company with Gene Sarazen, Gary Player, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods as the only guys in modern times to own at least one of all four grand slam events.

Mickelson will try to join the grand slam club at a venue on which he notched his first of a record six second-place outcomes in his country’s national championship. After Payne Stewart drilled that uphill, 18-footer for par and the win on the 72nd hole 15 years ago, he famously cupped Mickelson’s face in his hands and rejoiced with the first-time father to-be about the joys of parenthood.

"I'm excited about next week," Mickelson said. "It's a place that has a lot of memories for me, lot of great memories for me even though I didn't win there."

No. 2 Park’s primed for Pinehurst

Park, who earned six LPGA Tour wins in 2013, grabbed her first victory of 2014 at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic. It was a memorable and auspicious one, as she tied the Grey Silo course record with a final-round 10-under 61 and cruising to a three-stroke win over Cristie Kerr.

In the unfamiliar position of second-ranked player in the world, a week after Stacy Lewis reclaimed the No. 1 spot, Park captured her 10th tour championship with a decisive 23-under in Waterloo, Ontario.

"You think I’m motivated now?" Park cracked to reporters about a previous comment she made suggesting that being dethroned by Lewis may have started her competitive juices flowing.

For sure, for the golfer who went nearly 12 months without a victory after notching three straight major titles last year and thoroughly dominating the game, Sunday’s performance resulted in a welcome return to the winner’s circle.

"I think I needed a little bit of motivation," she said. "I just didn't have any win after the U.S. Open. I was playing good but not great. So yeah, I think last week was a very good motivation and inspiration for me. So this week, I thought I needed to step it up a little bit.''

Excellent scheduling on the part of Park, who carded just one bogey all week, way back in the first round, and contended that firing the magic 59 in the finale was not on her mind. Just grab the trophy and move on to Pinehurst in two weeks.

"I think it’s really good timing," said Park.

Open qualifier DQd before getting to Pinehurst

It took him five days but men’s U.S. Open qualifier Jason Millard reported a penalty he imposed on himself when he grounded his club in a bunker during last week’s qualifier at Colonial Country Club and subsequently was disqualified from playing at Pinehurst.

"I'm pretty sure I grounded my club in the bunker," Millard said, according to the USGA. "I didn't see anything for sure, but I felt something and I saw a small indentation. It happened so fast, I really don't know 100 percent, but deep down, I believe I did. I couldn't find peace about it. For five days, I practiced and I couldn't get it off my mind. It's heart-breaking, but what I was feeling in my heart didn't feel right. It's the right decision and I am sticking with it."

Millard, who earned a spot at Pinehurst with a pair of 68s in Memphis, incurred the penalty on his third shot on the 18th hole (his 27th hole of the day) on the club’s North Course.

"We commend Jason for bringing this matter to our attention," Daniel Burton, chair of the USGA’s championship committee, said in a statement on Saturday. "At this time, we have no recourse but to disqualify him under the Rules of Golf and specifically Rule 34-1b."

Amateur Sam Love, the second alternate from the same qualifying site, will replace Millard in the field.

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