Phil Mickelson: The US Open’s Nearly Man

A look at Phil Mickelson's six runner-up finishes in the US Open

Phil Mickelson in the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot
Phil Mickelson came closest to winning the US Open in 2006
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When Phil Mickelson lifted The Open at Muirfield in 2013 after a superb final round of 66, he completed the third leg of the career Grand Slam. By that point, Mickelson had already won The Masters three times and the PGA Championship once (he would win it again in 2021). 

However, he had also finished runner-up in the US Open six times, most recently just a month before lifting the Claret Jug, at Merion Golf Club. 

Now aged 52, Mickelson will once again attempt to rectify that at the Los Angeles Country Club, a feat he's previously said would persuade him to retire. 

But what are the stories of those half dozen near misses? We'll run through the tournaments where he’s been close - but not quite close enough - so far.

1999 - Pinehurst

Phil Mickelson after missing a putt on the 18th at Pinehurst No.2 at the 1999 US Open

Phil Mickelson finished runner-up to Payne Stewart in the 1999 US Open

(Image credit: Getty Images)

After rounds of 67, 70 and 73, Mickelson was just a shot off overnight leader Payne Stewart’s going into the final round at Pinehurst No.2. He stayed in contention through the front nine on Sunday, too, and his chances of securing the title looked even better when he took the lead through 12 holes.

Stewart birdied the 13th to draw level, but Mickelson moved clear again when his rival bogeyed the 15th. It didn't take long until the momentum swung back Stewart's way, though, after a bogey from Lefty on the 16th followed by a birdie from Stewart on the 17th left Mickelson behind by one with one to play.

On the final green it looked as though Mickelson had the opportunity to force an 18-hole playoff when Stewart faced a tough putt across the green to save par. He rolled it in, famously punched the air and Mickelson was beaten by one.

It was an agonising way for Mickelson to lose but, having turned 29 days earlier, there would be plenty more chances to make amends. 

2002 - Bethpage Black

Phil Mickelson takes a shot during the final round of the 2002 US Open

Mickelson was runner-up to Tiger Woods in 2002

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This time, Mickelson gave himself even more to do in the final round, as he sat five shots behind Tiger Woods. He immediately got to work chipping away at Woods' lead  with a birdie at the first while the leader began with two bogeys. 

However, by the time he reached the back nine, a two-shot deficit had stretched to four, and Mickelson couldn't find the consistency he needed to worry Woods enough. He lost by three, even though Woods making bogeys in two of the final three holes.

Despite the disappointment of missing out on the trophy again, Mickelson could at least take comfort in knowing that he'd been beaten by a player who'd just claimed his eighth Major win in a little over five years. 

2004 - Shinnecock Hills

Phil Mickelson reacts to a bunker shot in the final round of the 2004 US Open at Shinnecock Hills

The US Open title eluded Mickelson again in 2004 at Shinnecock Hills

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The final round at Shinnecock Hills in 2004 was played in such difficult conditions that the average score for the day was 78.7 - almost nine-over-par. The greens were so firm and slick that putting became a nightmare and a huge test of nerve.

Mickelson went into the final round two behind South African Retief Goosen, but by the 15th, the left-hander moved ahead, with birdies at the 15th and 16th giving him a one-stroke advantage. 

However, just when it looked as though Mickelson had the bit between his teeth, the lead was turned on its head when he double-bogeyed the par-3 17th after three-putting from inside five feet. Playing behind Mickelson, Goosen felt the pressure ease and he re-established his two-shot cushion with a birdie at the 16th.

The South African parred the last two to leave Phil once again mulling over what might have been.

2006 - Winged Foot

Phil Mickelson holds his head in his hands during the 2006 US Open

Phil Mickelson threw away the chance to win the 2006 US Open on the last hole

(Image credit: Getty Images)

This is undoubtedly the one Mickelson really should have won. Despite some extremely wayward play on the 16th and 17th holes of the final round, Mickelson still came to the final tee at Winged Foot needing just a par to win or a bogey to force a playoff with Australian Geoff Ogilvy.

He stood up to the tee and fired the ball so far left that it rattled through the trees and ended by a hospitality tent. He could have still made par by pitching out and trying to get up and down, but, in typical Mickelson fashion, he decided to take the bigger risk by go for the green through a non-existent gap in the branches.

Inevitably, the ball struck timber and dropped just 20 yards in front of him. His next shot escaped the trees but ended up plugged in the greenside bunker. He failed to get the next shot on the green and, in the end, did well to get up-and-down for a double bogey.

A shell-shocked Mickelson had missed out by a stroke and was second yet again, this time with Jim Furyk and Colin Montgomerie for company.

2009 - Bethpage Black

Phil Mickelson during the 2009 US Open

Mickelson set an unwanted record in 2009 as the player who has finished as US Open runner-up most times

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Mickelson was flying under the radar coming into the final round at Bethpage Black in 2009. He began the day six back of leader Ricky Barnes and five behind Lucas Glover.

However, as the leaders began to falter, Mickelson remained steady and crept slowly into contention. When he eagled the par-5 13th, he moved into a tie for the lead with Glover. Then things took a familiar turn for the worse. 

Mickelson could have moved clear on the 14th but missed a short birdie putt. That appeared to rattle him as he then three-putted for a bogey on the 15th. Even then, Mickelson had ample opportunity to close out the win, by he missed another makeable birdie putt on the 16th and bogeyed the 17th to hammer the final nail in the coffin. Glover won by two.

That left Mickelson stranded in second for a fifth time, which handed him the unwanted outright record after previously sharing four runner-up finishes with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Bobby Jones and Sam Snead.

2013 - Merion Golf Club

Phil Mickelson during the 2013 US Open

Mickelson finished runner-up for a sixth time at Merion in 2013

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By now it had been 14 years since Mickelson's first runner-up in the US Open, and he was once again well in contention going into the final round at Merion Golf Club. Lefty led by one as he began, but any hopes he had of pulling further clear evaporated with three-putt double-bogeys at the 3rd and 5th holes. 

Undeterred, he moved back to the top of the board with a superb eagle at the 10th, but a bogey on the 13th against an earlier birdie by Justin Rose saw Mickelson drop one behind the Englishman.

Mickelson dropped another shot at the 14th, but a bogey by Rose two holes later gave Mickelson a glimmer of hope. The American had a makeable birdie putt at the same hole to tie the Englishman, but it didn’t drop. He needed to pick up a shot on either the 17th or 18th, but he didn’t come close and finished second again.

“I felt like this was as good an opportunity I could ask for,” he said afterwards. “And to not get it... it hurts."

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?

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