US Open 2014: Phil Mickelson aims to make history. Justin Rose just wants to catch the World Cup
Englishman grateful the Three Lions' World Cup opener against Italy is after the close of play on Saturday
They were queuing round the block for this one. Ladies and gentlemen Phil Mickelson is in the house. Had Mickelson ridden through the doors on the back of Champion the wonder horse he could not have cut a more heroic figure in the eyes of the American audience, his half a dozen failures at the US Open creating a dam of emotion ready to blow the bloody doors off Pinehurst.
Mickelson turns 44 on Monday. It is 15 years since his first reverse in this event at this course at the hands of Payne Stewart. The birth of his first child was imminent. Stewart rolled in a 15-footer at the last to deny Mickelson his first major but in an intimate embrace promised him his time would come at this championship and wished him luck with fatherhood. Within months Stewart was dead, snuffed out when the cabin of his private jet lost pressure at altitude. All these elements are swirling around Mickelson, not to mention the minor issue of his attempting to join the famous five – Hogan, Nicklaus, Palmer, Player and Woods – to have won all four major championships.
There is a sense that something bigger than him is steering his ship and that all he has to do is harness the power. He carried around the course with the look of a kid on Christmas morning, as if Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore's lauded redesign of Pinehurst No 2 was commissioned entirely on his behalf.
"This place is awesome. It is just a wonderful site. I do feel heading into this year's Open that this golf course, this set-up, and everything about Pinehurst provides me the best opportunity. It is testing a player's entire game. It forces you to make decisions, to choose the right club off the tee, hit solid iron shots into the green, and utilise your short game to save strokes. There's no luck involved with the hack-it-out rough that sometimes we have around the greens. It's just a wonderful test and I think the best I've seen to identify the best player."
The course is one thing, the circumstances another. Mickelson is the interviewer's dream, loquacious to a fault but not windy with his responses. He understands and embraces the princely role in which he is cast by the adoring public. "The expectations of me looking forward to this event and the history that I've had here and how much of a great story it would be and how much it would mean to me to win here with what happened with Payne Stewart and my child and all these things, that makes it more difficult.
"I tend to do something, play better, like at Muirfield last year when nobody really expects it and I just kind of come out of nowhere and know that I can do it and not really have to answer questions about it. So these are all challenges that I'm facing this week, but I'm also enjoying it and I love being here."
Mickelson added his voice to the majority view that the erasing of the rough in favour of naturally occurring scrub makes this a second-shot championship and places a premium on the short game. The winner this week will be the player who recovers best when the green repels his ball, as surely it will. And few wave a wand as magically as Mickelson around the greens when his game is on.
Mickelson's playing partner on Thursday and defending champion Justin Rose is more relaxed than he has ever been, freed from Mickelson's burden of seeking a maiden US Open victory. In a light-hearted address Rose said he was grateful that England's World Cup opener against Italy is after the close of play on Saturday rather than before.
Four years ago Rose went into the last day of the Travelers Championship leading the field. On that occasion the time zones in Bloemfontein sent England into the match against Germany before his final round. Suitably wired, and waving his scarf and rattle, Rose sat through the whole debacle. The day didn't end well for him, either. "I was leading by three I think going into Sunday .
"It was an emotional football match and then I never really calmed down. I think I watched it about 10 in the morning, we were playing at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, I ended up going out and losing the golf tournament. So maybe I'll be a little bit more careful about my emotions watching the football."
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