US Open 2014: Phil Mickelson looks back on track despite distractions

After his brush with the FBI, the American is focused on claiming the only major he has yet to win

golf correspondent

We have come to expect the radical intervention from Phil Mickelson, a golfer capable at his best of conjuring outcomes beyond the imagination of most. But a knock on the door from the FBI? This must be the greatest shock treatment ever attempted to jolt a game to life in the build-up to a major championship. "Step out of the buggy and take your hands off the golf clubs."

Mickelson's near misses at the US Open, the only major he has yet to win, have been the dominant narrative since Tiger Woods slipped down the food chain. We thought he might tie the knot when he led every round at Merion last year before being tasered by Justin Rose with that killer 4-iron at the last.

He rebounded to win the Open at Muirfield a month later but has struggled to find the sweet spot since. There is little in sport to match the misery that attaches to a champion golfer out of rhythm. To be invited by the Feds to help with their inquiries into questionable investment practices, aka insider trading, breaks new ground even for the desperate.

Mickelson was approached by the FBI and the Securities Exchange Commission after his first round at last week's Memorial Tournament in Ohio. Interest centred on investments in a company called Clorox after shares soared following a bid to buy it was made by an alleged associate.

This kind of episode might shatter the equilibrium of mortals but not Lefty. Mickelson denies any wrongdoing and is enthusiastically helping the authorities in their pursuit of the truth. "I think that as a player you have to be able to block out whatever is going on off the golf course and be able to focus," he said. "It's not going to change the way I carry myself. Honestly, I've done nothing wrong. I'm not going to walk around any other way."

Too true. Mickelson pitched up at Pinehurst on Monday for two days' familiarisation with the revamped No 2 course, the divine location where 15 years ago he was memorably pipped by Payne Stewart, who sank a 15-footer at the last to win by a stroke. The course has been restored to its original design since the US Open was last held here in 2005. Gone are the tight fairways and penal rough, replaced by wider landing areas bordered by the native scrub and grasses that characterised the earlier Donald Ross design.

Mickelson was steady enough on his feet to deliver a video cameo in which he purred glowing impressions. If this was a man struggling with his conscience, he concealed it brilliantly. Only when matters divert to his near misses in his national championship does his countenance shift, particularly when reflecting on Merion last year.

"It's easier to be honest and up front about what I'm feeling and going through than it is to try and deny it, which is why, when I lose, I talk about how tough it is. It's challenging. It was the biggest defeat. I had such a down moment after losing at Merion."

Mickelson was tied ninth on five under par after his delayed second round at the St Jude Classic yesterday, proof his game is finally coming back to him, good enough perhaps to polish a US Open record that has seen him finish runner up six times. "I do feel after the last ten days of practice that my game is sharper than it has been all year. I feel like I've done what I needed to do. And now, because I haven't had the outcome or the results that I wanted this year, I just need to get some confidence."

Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Travel
Streets ahead: Venice
travelWhat's trending on your wishlist?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect