Phil Mickelson: The US Open’s Nearly Man

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

US Open's Nearly Man

Six-time Major champion Phil Mickelson is also a six-time US Open runner-up. Unsurprisingly, that is a record for the event, so we thought we'd take a look at his near misses

The US Open's Nearly Man

When Phil Mickelson lifted the Claret Jug at Muirfield in 2013 after a stellar closing round of 66, he completed the third leg of the career Grand Slam. The only piece of the puzzle missing for “Lefty” is the US Open. He’s come agonisingly close to winning his national title on multiple occasions. In fact, he’s been second or tied for second no fewer than six times.

He will look to rectify that in 2021 at Torrey Pines after a career-rejuvenating performance at last month's PGA Championship, where he lifted the Wanamaker Trophy for the second time to become the sport's oldest Major champion.

We run through the tournaments where he’s been oh so close but still left cigar-less at the end of proceedings.

1999 - Pinehurst

The US Open's Nearly Man

Mickelson was just a shot off Payne Stewart’s lead going into the final round at Pinehurst. He stayed in contention through the front nine on Sunday and took the lead through 12 holes.

Stewart birdied the 13th to get back on level terms, but Mickelson moved clear again when his rival bogeyed the 15th. A bogey from “Lefty” on the 16th then a birdie by Stewart on the 17th meant Mickelson trailed by one with one to play.

On the final green it looked as though Mickelson might have a chance to force an 18-hole play-off; Stewart had a tough putt across the green to save par. He rolled it in, punched the air and Mickelson was beaten by one.

It was a close thing but, as most predicted at the time, there would be plenty more chances for Phil.

2002 - Bethpage

The US Open's nearly man

At Bethpage in 2002, Mickelson won the other tournament being contested. Tiger Woods was away and clear after three rounds and he held on to win by three strokes. Phil beat Tiger by two on the final day but couldn’t close the gap.

Mickelson had played four superb rounds to end the competition on level par, two better than the field, but three worse than his great rival Woods.

2004 - Shinnecock Hills

The US Open's nearly man

The final round at Shinnecock Hills in 2004 was played in such difficult conditions that the average score for the day was 78.7 (that’s 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 Retief Goosen but towards the end of the back-nine, the left-hander moved ahead. Birdies at the 15th and 16th gave him a one-stroke advantage.

But that lead was turned on its head when Phil double-bogeyed the par-3 17th. He three-putted 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 mulling over what might have been.

2006 - Winged Foot

The US Open's nearly man

This is one Phil really should have won. After 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 a par to win or a bogey to force a play-off with Australia’s 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 he decided to be more adventurous and attempted to go for the green through a non-existent gap in the branches.

Related: The 2006 US Open: Monty and Mickelson Miss Out

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 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.

2009 - Bethpage

The US Open's nearly man

Mickelson was flying under the radar a little coming into the final round at Bethpage in 2009; he was six back of Ricky Barnes and five behind Lucas Glover.

But, as the leaders faltered, 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. But then things started to go wrong.

He could have moved clear on the 14th but missed a short birdie putt. That seemed to rattle him and he then three-putted for a bogey on the 15th. He then missed another makeable birdie putt on the 16th and bogeyed the 17th to hammer the final nail in the coffin. Glover won by two.

Mickelson was second for a fifth time, breaking the record of four he had shared with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Bobby Jones and Sam Snead.

2013 - Merion

The US Open's nearly man

Mickelson held a one-stroke lead going into the final round at Merion but he gave that up swiftly with three-putt double-bogeys at the 3rd and 5th holes. 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.

Then he dropped another at the 14th but a bogey by Rose at the 16th gave Mickelson a glimmer of hope.

The American had a makeable birdie putt at the 16th 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 he was 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 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 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?