By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
So it’s Lefty’s to lose. Having scrapped his way around Merion’s East Course for 54 punishing holes, Phil Mickelson is the only player under par. If he finishes the final day with a minus sign beside his name, he surely will be celebrating his fifth major and the dismissal of a huge US Open-sized monkey off his back.
It’s Fathers’ Day and he’s a devoted father. This would be his 50th professional victory and his first US Open after five second placed finishes. Plus it’s his birthday. The key elements of the fairytale narrative are in place, now all he needs is 18 holes of steady golf to bring the script together.
But there are more than a few doubts that Lefty can close it out. Several years of being the US Open’s bridesmaid will do that to you. For all his success and multiple majors, there’s the lingering feeling that he fails to deliver when the chips are down. When presented with a chance of victory, too often he achieves the ‘standard’ rather than the sublime that’s required to win most tournaments. Phil may not be considered a bottler of Sergio Garcia proportions, but the belief that he’ll close it out is far from universal.
It’s a belief that seems to have gained momentum in recent years, but is it an accurate reflection of Lefty’s performance in the majors? In contrast to the ‘choker’ label, the evidence suggests that when Mickelson goes into the final round of a major in the lead, he generally delivers out.
In the last ten years of his major career, Lefty has:
- played 41 majors, winning four
- led going into the final round four times, winning three times
- been in the Top Three (including ties) heading into the final round nine times, going on to win four times
There’s generally a very fine line of a shot or two between being a leader or not, but for Mickelson, the difference seems significant. As leader going into the final round, he has delivered 75% of the time. When he has been in the Top Three but not leading, he has won just once in five for a 20% win rate.
The one substantial caveat is that three of the four major wins came at Augusta. The only constant on the major calendar and a place it’s easy to develop a fondness for over time. Leading at the famous Georgia course is obviously more familiar to him than the other major courses.
Interestingly, when he went into the final round of the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot with a share of the lead, he went around four over par when even a score of two over would have won it for him. The situation facing him at East Merion is probably more similar to that than going around the more comfortable setting of Amen Corner.