Birthday blues: Mickelson limps to finish at Pebble

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — You couldn’t help but know it was Phil Mickelson’s birthday on Sunday, as much as it was noted among the gallery as he played the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

Mickelson managed to birdie the final hole and shoot 72 to complete a disappointing U.S. Open that saw him finish before the leaders teed off, never much of a factor in the championship he finished at 4 over par. And that 49th birthday he celebrated Sunday was yet another reminder that the opportunities to win the U.S. Open after six runner-up finishes are coming close to an end.

“Well, I don’t know what else to say. It’s not like I’m going to stop trying,” said Mickelson, who has played in 28 U.S. Opens. “I enjoy the challenge. But I thought this was a really good chance for me.

“I just didn’t — I didn’t putt my best, I didn’t chip my best. I actually played OK tee to green. I hit a lot of good shots. And my short game was not what it usually is and hasn’t been this year. So I’m going to work on that a little bit. I feel like my game has been coming around and I want to finish off this summer.”

Mickelson won the PGA Tour event at Pebble Beach earlier this year, his fifth victory in the tournament and 44th of his PGA Tour career. But all along, he said there was little correlation to that event and the U.S. Open, set up much sterner and at a time of year when the conditions are considerably different.

And since that win, he’s had a single top-20 finish — a tie for 18th at the Masters.

“Dealing with losing in this game is a huge thing because even the best — the greatest winners win such a small percentage of the time,” Mickelson said. “But I have had so many special moments here at Pebble Beach that I can’t help but play here and not be thankful and appreciative and grateful for all the gifts that I’ve been given and to be able to play and compete in this event. This was my first event as a pro, 1992, here. Even though I didn’t play my best this week, it is a special place and so fun to be a part of it.”

Mickelson is scheduled to play this week’s Travelers Championship in Connecticut as well as the 3M Championship in Minneapolis in three weeks prior to The Open at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland.

Since finishing second to Justin Rose at the 2013 U.S. Open and winning The Open at Muirfield a month later to put himself in position to complete the career Grand Slam, Mickelson has not finished in the top 25 at a U.S. Open.

The tournament returns next year to Winged Foot, the New York course where he suffered one of his most difficult defeats, making a double-bogey on the 72nd hole after carrying a one-shot lead to the final tee in 2006. When the 2020 tournament plays out, Mickelson will be 50 years old.

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