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Mickelson hoping for another memorable week

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Phil Mickelson signs autographs for fans during a practice round for the U.S. Open golf tournament Tuesday, June 15, 2010, at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Phil Mickelson signs autographs for fans during a practice round for the U.S. Open golf tournament Tuesday, June 15, 2010, at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — He's inching closer to Tiger Woods in green jackets and is now officially 1-up on Woods in moments that make you want to cry.

A simple hug with his ailing wife off the 18th green at Augusta National had people reaching for tissues across the country. The lovable lug with the goofy grin not only won the Masters, but a lot of hearts to go along with it.

Phil Mickelson was the anti-Tiger in a week when people were consumed by Tiger. Fitting, perhaps, because he always seemed to be the one chasing Tiger.

Chased him as Woods won major after major. Kept chasing him even after he realized that his career would always be second-best to perhaps the best player ever.

The chase could end this week in a tournament that has haunted Mickelson the most. Oddsmakers believe — and Mickelson heartily concurs — that his 20th U.S. Open might be the one he finally wins.

If he does, he won't just be No. 1 in everyone's hearts. He'll be No. 1 on the world golf charts.

"I feel if I play good golf that will happen," Mickelson said Tuesday. "I don't know the ranking system or world points or how that works, nor do I care. I just know that if I continue to play well, ultimately in the long run, it will happen."

For a long time it looked like it would never happen. As good as Mickelson was at times, Woods was always so much better.

Yes, Mickelson collected three green jackets and has won more majors than any player in his era other than Woods. But he was never first on the money list, never first in scoring average and never won player of the year.

And, of course, he's never won the U.S. Open, finishing second five times.

"I think when I started out as a young pro not many people — maybe even myself included — thought this would be a tournament I would play well at, but yet I've been able to," Mickelson said. "So because of that I still have a sense of pride in the way I've played, but, again, I would like to win my national Open."

To say this would be his best chance would be to overlook the many chances he has had in the past. Whether it was short missed putts at Pinehurst and Shinnecock or disaster on 18 at Winged Foot, Mickelson always seemed to find a way to lose.

Loose drives and bad putting usually did him in. Sometimes, though, it was just his own thought process getting in the way.

"I am such an idiot," he said after Winged Foot.

Not many disagreed. Mickelson was usually his own worst enemy when given time to think through a situation.

But now he's got a miracle shot of his own good enough for a television commercial, just like Woods had one with his chip-in a few years back at Augusta National. Now he's got the confidence that both his mind and his game are better than ever.

Now he's got his chance to finally win an Open and be a No. 1.

Mickelson turns 40 on Wednesday, a time when players tend to start reflecting on their careers. He did just that, talking about playing in the 1992 Open here in his first tournament as a pro and the special feel he will always have for Pebble Beach.

But Mickelson was also in a mood to look ahead, both in his personal life and his job on the course.

Amy, he said, is progressing well and has a good long-term prognosis in her battle with breast cancer. She likely will be here this weekend, and Mickelson believes his game is good enough that he will be in contention.

"I look at where I was at when I was 30, you asked the question, where was my game at 30, and I see a phenomenal difference between where I was at 30 and where I am today," he said. "And I look six years ago when I won The Masters for the first time where my game was at. And even as early as a year ago I see a big difference. And so I feel like even though I'm 40 I'm playing some of my best golf."

That doesn't necessarily put him in the final group on Sunday. As Mickelson has so painfully learned over the years, the brutal conditions at an Open have a way of disrupting even the best-laid plans.

But Woods is hurting in more ways than one, and the list of other credible contenders is a short one. If Mickelson's short game is on, the fast greens and tricky chipping conditions give him an edge.

That could mean another major championship win for Mickelson. It could mean another tearful embrace with Amy off the 18th green.

"I'm hoping and anticipate that Amy will be able to come out this weekend. I certainly hope so," Mickelson said. "And I would love to play well and share another victory, because that memory that we have at Augusta is something we'll never forget and something we look back on and still tear up when we look back on it.

"It was a fun week."

____

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org

 

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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