Mickelson aims for double as rivals prepare to pounce

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The Independent Online

A lot has changed for Phil Mickelson, the winner of the Masters in April. "It makes me laugh," he said. "Two months ago it was, 'will he ever win a major?' and now it's, 'will he win the grand slam?'"

A lot has changed for Phil Mickelson, the winner of the Masters in April. "It makes me laugh," he said. "Two months ago it was, 'will he ever win a major?' and now it's, 'will he win the grand slam?'"

Not even Tiger Woods managed the feat in the same season but entering the 104th US Open, Mickelson, who celebrated his 34th birthday yesterday with a final practice round, has a stronger case than ever before in this championship, having tightened up his driving and his tactical thinking to win at Augusta.

Tiger, meanwhile, became only the fifth player to do the Masters and US Open double two years ago but has not won a major since. His driving has been at fault, though it has not stopped him finishing high up in regular tour events, but may be helped here by the firm and fast nature of the course. The lack of rain and watering means the first cut of rough is not as uniformly penal as at most other US Open courses.

But then, as virtually everyone has remarked, this week looks more like an Open Championship, although the conditions have not been quite as hot and sunny as at Sandwich last year. The long, wispy rough has browned off and the greens, small and raised, are surrounded by shaved areas rather than the thick, lush grass of past US Opens.

A number of trees have been removed, helping the links-like look, although the geologists insist Long Island was formed by glacial movement rather than aggregation of sand deposits so this is not officially linksland.

But as Ernie Els said: "It feels like England here. You have the long grass growing and it's got the colour we get back in the old country. And it's getting dusty." On the other hand, he admitted: "You still have the US Open elements with the rough and the greens are quicker than at the British Open. And we've got ice."

Els, pipped by Mickelson in that stunning duel at Augusta but an incredibly impressive winner of the Memorial two weeks ago, will be looking to add to his major tally along with Woods, Vijay Singh and Mickelson. The first question Mickelson was asked at his media conference was whether he was the best player only to have won one major.

"That's a nicer question than the old one," said Mickelson. The old question was the one about being the best player not to have won a major.

For candidates to continue the run of six first-time major winners in a row look no further than the likes of Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke. Garcia, with his play-off victory over Harrington at Westchester, has won twice in the last month and is getting back to his best after a year of swing changes.

"I feel I should win a major," said the Spaniard, who said the course reminded him of his home track near Valencia. "I feel I can give myself more chances of winning."

Alas, no one has won the Buick Classic and the US Open in the same year, while Tony Jacklin is the only European to win America's national championship in 77 years. "Sergio is ready," said the 1970 winner. "He's maturing and is a proven winner over here. There is only a handful of Europeans who can say that."

Garcia is only 24, but Justin Rose will not reach that age until next month. Yet after leading the Masters for two days, albeit with an 81 on the third day, he is beginning to feel comfortable at the sharp end of the biggest tournaments. Fourth place in the Memorial was another step in the right direction and the Englishman felt a palpable sense of anticipation when arriving at Shinnecock.

"I had heard it had British Open tendencies but this is amazing," Rose, at home in the windy conditions, said. "I was surprised to see quite how like a links it is, although it may be hillier than the courses back home. The preparation has been relaxed because my game has been in good shape and the main things, like the chipping and putting around the greens, you can only do here.

"There are some brutal holes, par-threes like the seventh and the 11th," he added. "This course is not just going to test your game but other qualities like patience and strategy."

SHINNECOCK HILLS TEE-OFF TIMES

(US unless stated, all times BST)

First tee Thursday, 10th tee Friday

12.00 & 17.00: D Hart, A Cejka (Ger), M Calcavecchia.

12.10 & 17.10: J Wagner, *N Smith, J Elliott.

12.20 & 17.20: K Cox, E Romero (Arg), D Chopra (Swe).

12.30 & 17.30: B Baird, J Haeggman (Swe), *C Wittenberg.

1240 & 1740 D Duval, P Price (GB), S Hoch.

12.50 & 17.50: J Haas, T Kite, R Floyd.

13.00 & 18.00: T Woods, S Maruyama (Japan), C Campbell.

13.10 & 18.10: D Forsman, P Casey (GB), B Gay.

13.20 & 18.20: T Bjorn (Den), B Faxon, T Immelman (SA).

13.30 & 18.30: S Micheel, N Faldo (GB), K Perry.

13.40 & 18.40: C Bowden, S Allan (Aus), M Gogel.

13.50 & 18.50: J Green, J Gove, S Gotsche.

14.00 & 19.00: K Stadler, D Morland (Can), J Connelly.

17.00 & 12.00: D Paulson, R Sabbatini (SA), J Rollins.

17.10 & 12.10: P Osborn, *S Levin, G Sisk

17.20 & 12.20: J Kelly, C Franco (Par), J Kaye.

17.30 & 12.30: L Janzen, KJ Choi (S Kor), F Funk.

17.40 & 12.40: P Harrington (Ire), D Toms, S Leaney (Aus.)

17.50 & 12.50: JP Hayes, P Jordan, JJ Henry

18.00 & 13.00: D Clarke (GB), S Flesch, S Appleby (Aus).

18.10 & 13.10: V Singh (Fiji), S Cink, S Ames (Trin).

18.20 & 13.20: C Parry (Aus), M-A Jimenez (Sp), F Couples.

18.30 & 13.30: C Howell, R Goosen (SA), J Leonard.

18.40 & 13.40: JL Lewis, A Cabrera (Arg), B Mayfair.

18.50 & 13.50: B Van Pelt, B Jones (Aus), R Tambellini.

19.00 & 14.00: J Hicks, S Weatherly, J Douma.

10th tee Thursday, First tee Friday

12.00 & 17.00: C Riley, B Davis (GB), J Maggert.

12.10 & 17.10: B Lardon, *B Mackenzie, J Senden (Aus).

12.20 & 17.20: D Roesch, C Dechert, C Bourque.

12.30 & 17.30: P Lonard (Aus), D Love, L Westwood (GB).

12.40 & 17.40: J Byrd, S Garcia (Sp), R Beem.

12.50 & 17.50: T Byrum, C Villegas (Col), H Tanaka (Japan).

13.00 & 18.00: *N Flanagan, B Curtis, J Furyk.

13.10 & 18.10: T Petrovic, G Hjertstedt (Swe), K Sutherland.

13.20 & 18.20: R Allenby (Aus), C DiMarco, E Els (SA).

13.30 & 18.30: C Kresge, I Poulter (GB), B Estes.

13.40 & 18.40: M Brooks, S Kendall, T Pernice.

13.50 & 18.50: D Carr, A Tschudin (Aus), E Axley.

14.00 & 19.00: *O Alvarez (Col), D Faught, L Olson.

17.00 & 12.00: D Waldorf, Tim Clark (SA), S McRoy.

17.10 & 12.10: B Watson, D Olsen, Y Carter.

17.20 & 12.20: J Sindelar, M Campbell (NZ), M Weir (Can).

17.30 & 12.30: A Baddeley (Aus), *B Haas, T Hamilton.

17.40 & 12.40: J Ogilvie, P Perez, T Isenhour.

17.50 & 12.50: T Levet (Fr), *C Reavie, Z Johnson.

18.00 & 13.00: P Mickelson, P Lawrie (GB), K Triplett.

18.10 & 13.10: T Izawa (Japan), T Herron, F Jacobson (Swe).

18.20 & 13.20: A Scott (Aus), B Tway, N Price (Zim).

18.30 & 13.30: S Stricker, S Hend (Aus), C Smith.

18.40 & 13.40: C Pavin, J Rose (GB), S Verplank.

18.50 & 13.50: O Uresti, R Garrigus, C Paulson.

19.00 & 14.00: P McLachlin, J Maxon, S Sokol.

* denotes amateur

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