Mickelson aims for storybook ending

"It's really about the putting," former U.S. Open champion and NBC analyst Johnny Miller said. "I think the putting is a big issue, and that will wear you out. As a golfer, you're playing pretty good, and you can't get that ball in and another guy is getting up and in everywhere. It really wears you out.

"He's got to somehow come up with a different putter or a different technique that makes him feel like he's found the Holy Grail, so to speak, if he's going to have a chance to win, because the way he's been putting, he has got no chance."

Curtis Strange also knows something about focusing so much on one tournament. The two-time U.S. Open winner and ESPN analyst put a great deal of effort into the 1990 U.S. Open after becoming the first player since Ben Hogan in 1950-51 to win consecutive U.S. Opens. Strange was going for three in a row -- something that hadn't been done since the turn of the century. He tied for 21st and never won again.

"I admire the fact that Phil's a stand-up guy and he's taking the questions," Strange said. "He talks about it. There's no other option to be honest with you, because it's a story, and it's a big story. Embrace it."

But ... "You don't go to the U.S. Open and find your game. This is a different animal than Augusta National. It would have been more positive if he would have been playing well the last couple months."

Mickelson talks about the situation both realistically and positively. Obviously there are the good memories from Pinehurst, the close call in 1999 with Payne Stewart, the birth of his first child the next day. There are the numerous times in contention at the U.S. Open, which Mickelson views as a positive. And there is his lackluster play this year.

"I do feel that this golf course, this setup, and everything about Pinehurst provides me the best opportunity," he said. "But I haven't had the form this year to get too excited ... I don't want to get overly excited, because the pressure of a U.S. Open and having not been in contention, that's going to be a challenge for me."

In his six runner-up U.S. Open results, one theme has developed: He simply has not finished the tournament well enough to win.

In each instance, Mickelson was playing a par-70 course and never broke par during the final round. Three times he matched par, once he shot 71 and twice 74, including last year when he finished 2 strokes behind Justin Rose. Twice (Shinnecock in '04 and Winged Foot in '06) he made a double-bogey on one of the closing holes to lose. Last year, he made two late bogeys after taking the lead with an eagle at the 10th hole.

Getting past that hurdle would seemingly be of huge importance, but Mickelson first needs to get in that position -- one he's been queried about repeatedly.

Go back to his first tournament of the 2013-14 PGA Tour season at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in October. Among the questions in his pretournament press conference? The U.S. Open. A week later in Shanghai for the HSBC Champions saw the same thing.

Fast forward to January and his first start of 2014. The first question asked of Mickelson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship? The U.S. Open. A week later at Torrey Pines? Again.

The questions died down as Mickelson fought through a back injury, then a muscle injury and prepared for the Masters. But in every tournament since ... the U.S. Open.

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