Mickelson's best Open shot is now

Again, Mickelson was fighting himself on almost every question he answered. The haunting memories of Merion in 2013, of Winged Foot in 2006 and of Shinnecock in 2004 conspired to stop him from imagining the elusive grail in his hands on Sunday night.

"I prefer that he's lurking and coming from behind, 2 or 3 shots off the lead, so he doesn't have the pressure of holding the lead Saturday night," Mickelson's brother, Tim, a successful college player who's now the head coach at Arizona State, said Tuesday by phone. "He'll never go under the radar, but in that case the pressure would be off of him.

"I know when I played and had the lead, sometimes I'd think, 'What am I going to say after I win?' Or, 'What is the trophy going to look like?' I don't know if he's had those thoughts, but when you want something so badly, it's easy to get ahead of yourself, and in golf that's one of the worst things you can do."

Back in his news conference, Phil Mickelson was asked whether he's wanted the U.S. Open too badly and whether that explained his half dozen near misses.

"It's very possible that that's it," he said. "But I've also wanted the Masters and my first major awfully bad. I also wanted a British Open awfully bad. ... I think that this is a week that I've been looking forward to and it would mean a lot to me, but if I get ahead of myself, I won't have a chance."

Much as he did at Bethpage in 2009, when he nearly won in the wake of learning his wife, Amy, had cancer, Mickelson likely will use Pinehurst as something of an escape. He's being investigated as part of a federal insider-trading probe. (He's denied any wrongdoing.) It's another bad swing thought he didn't need.

"I think that as a golfer or an athlete, you have to be able to control your thoughts," Mickelson said. "And anything that's going on off the golf course, or on, you have to be able to refocus."

Added his brother, Tim: "I think Phil's in a pretty great frame of mind, without any negative thoughts in his head. ... He's always had a strong focus on the course, and he can make everything else wait four hours and then he'll address it."

Tim Mickelson said he believes his brother has another six, seven or eight opportunities to win a U.S. Open. They used to talk about the national championship a lot as kids, that and the Masters. They never dreamed much about the kind of breathless comeback Mickelson staged last summer at Muirfield in the Open Championship.

"I would've probably wagered my house or car that Phil would win a U.S. Open before a British," Tim said, "and I'm glad I did not do that."

Phil always comes back for more pain and misery; he's like an NFL cornerback that way. He's tough enough to put himself in position to get hurt at the Open again and again and again, and he deserves a lot of credit for that.

Just about everyone wants him to win here, including the people covering him. Journalists aren't allowed to root for teams or athletes, but they are allowed to root for the best story. Mickelson is the best available story on the board, and it isn't close.

So if he's in contention on the weekend, the Pinehurst crowd will be pulling as hard for him as the Belmont crowd was pulling for California Chrome. Will Mickelson end up confronting the same result? Will he finish his career as a latter-day Sam Snead? Will the U.S. Open be for him what the French Open was for Pete Sampras?

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