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Saturday, June 15, 2013
Updated: June 16, 10:22 PM ET
Another missed opportunity for Phil

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

ARDMORE, Pa. -- The U.S. Open is the oldest living heart donor. It doesn't care about happy endings, about Father's Day, about birthday boys.

In other words, it doesn't care about Phil Mickelson.

If it did, Mickelson wouldn't have left Merion Golf Club mid-Sunday evening with that same glum, tortured look that he had after U.S. Opens in 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2009. He wouldn't have been ding-dong ditched -- again -- by the one major that doesn't get misty-eyed just because he flew home for daughter Amanda's eighth-grade graduation.

Mickelson didn't win the U.S. Open. What else is new? He could be the only guy in the field and he still wouldn't win the Open.

Instead, a deserving Justin Rose cradled and kissed the trophy for the awards ceremony photo op. It was his first-ever major victory and it was filled with quality shots and a touching moment on the 18th green that made you think about dabbing your own eyes.

Meanwhile, Mickelson did the gracious-in-defeat thing. He leads the world in congratulating the winner at Opens. And in finishing second.

This was his sixth second-place finish. He's just about had it being happy for other people.

"If I had won today, or if I ultimately win, I'll look back at the other Opens and think it was a positive play,'' said Mickelson. "But if I never get the Open, then ... every time I think of the U.S. Open I think of heartbreak.''

Mickelson
Phil Mickelson bogeyed three of his final six holes to finish in a tie for second at Merion.

Don't feel sorry for Mickelson. This was his major to win. And then it wasn't. And then it was. Then it wasn't. Then it was. And then it could have been ... but wasn't.

As usual, Mickelson had his signature Phil moments: a birdie on No. 2, wedge shot (he had five in his bag) for eagle on No. 10, a chip shot from the green on No. 15.

And as usual, Mickelson had his other kind of signature Phil moments: double bogeys on No. 3 and 5 and then, on the shortest hole on the course, a bogey on the 121-yard, par-3 13th, followed later by a bogey on the par-4 15th.

"Thirteen and 15 were the two bad shots of the day,'' said Mickelson.

They were bad because they were wedge shots. Mickelson and his wedge play are world famous. Just ask Tour player Colt Knost, who tweeted earlier in the day: "I told Phil one day he's pretty good with his wedges. He replied, `No, I'm really [expletive] good with them.'"

He wasn't on the 13th and 15th. He said he hit the wrong wedge (pitching wedge instead of a gap wedge) on 13 (and flew the green) and quit on his gap wedge shot into 15 (came up well short of the pin).

There was also the usual second guessing of Phil's club strategy. He put his driver on the bench and started five wedges in his bag. When he got to the 274-yard par-3 third hole -- facing a 25 m.h. wind (by Mickelson's estimate) -- he didn't have enough club.

"I needed a driver,'' he said.

Well, who's fault was that?

And he could have maybe used one on the brutal par-4 fifth hole.

But the truth is, Mickelson's strategy had worked well all week. To change on Sunday, for one, possibly two holes, doesn't make sense.

America was rooting for Mickelson. The Merion galleries were rooting for Mickelson. Most of the media center was rooting for Mickelson -- not because Rose wasn't a good story, but because Mickelson was a better one.

Think about it: It was Father's Day. It was Mickelson's birthday. He turned 43 and the galleries all but baked him a cake.

"I heard, `Happy Birthday,' probably 18 times today,'' said Mickelson's playing partner, Hunter Mahan.

Everything was in place for a Mickelson U.S. Open breakthrough. He had the crowds on his side. He had the lead on his side. And for a while Sunday, just about every contender fell off a quarry cliff.

Steve Stricker went snowman on the par-5 second hole, thanks to a wayward drive and then later a shank special. He finished with 41 on the front.

Luke Donald had an interesting stretch on the front: bogey, bogey, bogey, double-bogey, birdie, bogey, bogey. Hello, front-nine 42.

Charl Schwartzel shot 42 on the front. Billy Horschel had a 39.

All Mickelson had to do was shoot even-par 70, or maybe 71, and he's drinking champagne on a flight back home to California on the Gulfstream 5.

Instead, he shot 74 for the T-2 and another silver medal from the USGA.

"This could have been the big -- a really big turnaround for me on how I look at the U.S. Open and the tournament that I'd like to win after having so many good opportunities,'' said Mickelson. "Playing very well here and really loving the golf course, this week was my best opportunity [to win an Open].''

Now you wonder if it was Mickelson's last best chance to add a U.S. Open to his majors résumé of three Masters and one PGA Championship. And listening to Mickelson, you wonder if he thinks the same thing.

"Golf is just a life-long test,'' said Adam Scott, who had to wait years to finally win his first major this past April at Augusta. "He's certainly proof of that.''

Mickelson is tired of the U.S. Open tests. Worse yet, he's tired of failing them.