Focus on Phil Mickelson as veteran bids for career grand slam at Torrey Pines

The US Open may have been denied – for now at least – a heavyweight showdown between past and present champions, but it promises to be a case of last man standing once again in golf’s toughest major.

Brad Faxon’s claim that tournament organisers the USGA had asked Bryson DeChambeau if he would be happy to play with arch rival Brooks Koepka was swiftly denied by all concerned, with the feuding duo placed on opposite sides of the ‘draw’.

So unless the Ryder Cup team-mates end up on the same score after 36 or 54 holes, attention can return to Phil Mickelson’s bid to complete the career grand slam in his home city of San Diego and what sort of test the South Course at Torrey Pines will provide the world’s best.

Mickelson’s chances of becoming only the sixth player to have won all four majors appeared slim at best a month ago, when he had to reluctantly accept a special exemption into the event having slipped to 115th in the world.

The following week however, the 50-year-old rolled back the years to become golf’s oldest major champion with a stunning victory in the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, which came with a five-year US Open exemption as well as a place back inside the world’s top 50.

Despite a missed cut on his next start, Mickelson therefore arrives at Torrey Pines – where he won three times in nine years on the PGA Tour – as a more realistic contender to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in golf’s most exclusive club.

However, three months after the last of those wins in 2001, the bulldozers moved in to begin a comprehensive redesign of the South Course, one which certainly did not meet with Mickelson’s approval.

“What’s happened for me is I spent so many hours as a kid that, when the course was redesigned, all that local knowledge went away,” Mickelson said.

“So I spent a lot of hours out here on the greens last week to see if I can get that local knowledge again, and we’ll see how it goes, but I had a lot of fun kind of relearning and spending a lot of time out here.”

Whether that is enough to help Mickelson claim back-to-back victories and a seventh major title in total remains to be seen, but the thick rough around the greens could play into the hands of the short-game maestro.

“It’s nasty,” admitted former Masters champion Patrick Reed, who won the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines earlier this season.

Patrick Reed
Patrick Reed has labelled the rough at Torrey Pines ‘nasty’ ahead of the US Open (Adam Davy/PA)

“On the ninth I threw two balls and they landed just about the same spot. One hopped into the rough and one got in the kikuyu and sat up because it’s so thick, actually sat high, where I felt like I could almost hit driver off of it. I’ve seen some guys go underneath some golf balls this week already.

“The other one was maybe three feet from it and sank to the bottom. I advanced it maybe six inches in front of me.

“The rough’s at this point and now it’s just going to keep growing, keep getting longer and longer. So it’s going to be a true test around the green, but it’s going to be a fun test.”

Fun is not usually a word associated with the US Open, but six of the last seven have been won with under-par totals and Gary Woodland was 13 under in victory in 2019 at Pebble Beach, another course which annually hosts a PGA Tour event.

As ever much will depend on how the USGA sets up the course, but if we get anything like the 2008 duel between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate, there will be no complaints.