Tiger returns to a different order

Woods on comeback trail at US Open but Mickelson is now on a major mission with slam on horizon

Tiger Woods returns this week from the longest break in his golfing reign to face what is unarguably the biggest threat to his pre-eminence. An absence from competition of nearly 10 weeks is no way to prepare to put a great pretender in his place. Not when Phil Mickelson is in this form, on this run, looking this real.

In fairness, the world No 1 has something of an alibi as to his whereabouts since the Masters. The loss of a father is an important moment in all but the most unfortunate of lives, but in Tiger's it was seminal. Regardless of the sentiment that will inevitably pour forth should the grieving son prevail on Father's Day, from a purely sporting perspective Tiger's reaction to Earl's death will define this US Open, and perhaps even his career.

Should Mickelson be allowed to win his third major in succession and so set up the "Mickelslam" at Hoylake, then Woods' hegemony will suddenly have a rival that appears menacing both on fairway and in record book (and even if Woods has not always had his own way on the former, he certainly has in the latter). Mickelson would become the fourth man to hold three majors at the same time - Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan being the others - and at a total of four his major count would be making further inroads into Tiger's mark of 10.

Incredibly, all of them would have come in the last 10 majors, while in that Tigeresque-period the man himself would have collected only two. What have they always said about Woods' dominance being a one-off, never to be repeated in this ever-so- competitive modern era?

And maybe it will prove so, pleasing legend lovers everywhere, as Mickelson has not only to negotiate his now shrewd path around Woods and 154 other Tin Cup wannabes, but also around Winged Foot.

At 7,246 yards, the monster of Mamaroneck is the longest layout which has ever been used for the most demanding major of all, and at 514 yards will boast the longest par-four hole in major history, although the New York course's sinister nature will not manifest itself most obviously in distance.

"I'm going to make a prediction," said Mickelson by way of explanation last Wednesday. "Next week somebody will hit the wrong ball out of the rough. There are not just hundreds, but thousands, of members' balls hidden in there that you just can't see, even if you're stood over them. It's thicker and denser than I've ever seen rough."

Cue the moans and groans that have served as a constant backing theme to the USGA's annual horror show. The much-maligned body will excuse themselves with their new policy of graduated rough (six feet of "intermediate" up to 1 1/2in deep; 12 feet of "primary rough" up to 4in; "secondary rough" up to 6in extending all the way to the ropes) and slower greens (12 1/2 on the stimpmeter - veritable rice puddings for the USGA) and claim they have thus guarded against a repeat of 1974 and the famed "Massacre of Winged Foot", when Hale Irwin's winning score was seven over par.

Mickelson does not foresee it being that bad. Not quite. "Winged Foot is so difficult that you don't have to do ridiculous things to make par a good score," he said. One fairway is just 20 yards wide, the most forgiving 28 yards. "And not only that but there are so many doglegs," said Mickelson. "You can't just step up and crank on it and have it go 330 [yards] down the middle. You have to carve and work your tee shots with the angle of the hole."

For that purpose Mickelson - who will turn 36 on Wednesday - has had a driver designed especially, weighted for control rather than distance, and he is veering to employing that single weapon of telling pragmatism rather than using the two-driver philosophy which worked so effectively at Augusta.

It is a quandary Woods would be envious of right now as he worries whether his game can possibly be match-fit. His nemesis expects it to be. "For anybody else on Tour, coming off such a break would be a real challenge, but for him the same rules don't apply," said Mickelson. "I don't think it's going to be a problem for him - unfortunately."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media