Phil Mickelson deferring pain of Open loss ahead of PGA

— -- SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- There is no definitive script for the mourning process, but conventional wisdom shows that it usually progresses like this: Loss -- any type of loss -- hurts most in the immediate aftermath, the pain at its most intense before growing duller with time.

Phil Mickelson has never been conventional.

The man who admitted he spent two days in bed after finishing runner-up at the U.S. Open three years ago has decided to delay his latest mourning period until a time that better suits his schedule.

Nine days ago, Mickelson entered the final round of the 145th Open trailing by a single stroke. He proceeded to play one of the most impressive rounds of his lengthy career, posting a 6-under 65 without a single bogey -- and lost by three.

For a 10-time major championship runner-up who had seemingly lost big ones every way possible, he'd invented a new method of heartache for his 11th. It took one of the best rounds in the game's history from Henrik Stenson to defeat the lefty, who enters this week's PGA Championship simultaneously buoyed by the success of his recent performance while still trying to figure out how to handle the failure.

His answer is to defer until later.

Because of golf's inclusion in the upcoming Olympic Games, the year's final major has been moved up to where it's right on the heels of the last one. Mickelson's rationale is that there's simply no time for mourning right now, that the pain can -- and will -- wait until he has some free time on his hands.

"I think it's one of those things," he said Tuesday at Baltusrol Golf Club, site of this week's event, "where I'll look back over time and my disappointment will probably increase, because I think it's the first time in my career that I have played to that level of golf and not had it be enough to win a tournament. That's a disappointing thing, because I would have loved to have added another Claret Jug."

He then shifted into a mode that perhaps only he possesses.

"We have big tournaments coming up right now and because I am playing well, I don't want to let an opportunity, another really good opportunity that I have to play a PGA Championship here at Baltusrol at a course I like, while my game is sharp, and let the effects or disappointment linger."

In a week ripe with storylines, the Mickelson subplot might run deepest. Not only is he fresh off the latest close call of a career fraught with them, he's also the last player to win a major held on this course.

It was 11 years ago that he captured his second major title. On a leaderboard filled with brilliant swings and baggy shirts, he defeated Steve Elkington, Thomas Bjorn, Davis Love III and Tiger Woods. To put his longevity in context, none of those others are here this week, while Mickelson remains amongst the pre-tournament favorites.

He was merely a four-time major runner-up at that point, with years of tough losses still ahead of him. His total of 11 ranks second all time behind only Jack Nicklaus, but nobody before Mickelson had ever lost one like the last one.

Mickelson's score in relation to par would've claimed the Claret Jug in all but four of the previous 144 editions of The Open. His duel with Stenson will endure as one of the game's most classic head-to-head battles on a Sunday afternoon.

Even nine days later, Mickelson's peers were still marveling at the match.

"I actually, on the first hole, just walked over and said, 'Phil, what a fantastic performance. It was a lot fun to watch. Really a bit unlucky. You certainly deserved it,'" said Jordan Spieth, who played a practice round with him Tuesday. "It seemed like he was certainly content with it, but certainly felt like he deserved that Claret Jug again. I think he felt like he played as well as he did in the last Open (that he won) at Muirfield."

Mickelson admitted as much, too, though he struggled to elaborate whether playing his best and still losing was easier or tougher to handle.

Perhaps he'll figure that out when he finds the time to deal with that loss.

For now, he's got another task at hand.

"There is a disappointment factor of having not won," he said. "But I'm also starting to play good golf again. I'm having a lot more fun on the course. I'm able to play the game a lot stress-free. I had two bogey-free rounds in a major. That's really good for me, OK? A lot of guys, I get that they have done it, but for me, that's pretty good. I'm starting to really enjoy playing and competing, because I'm playing back to the level that I expect to play at."

That doesn't mean Mickelson has no regrets over that final-round, bogey-free 65 at Royal Troon. With a mischievous smile splashed across his face, he explained that he'd like to have just one mulligan.

"I don't look back on the final round with anything that I would have done different, other than maybe go over to Stenson's bag and bend his putter a little bit," he said. "That's probably the only thing I could have done and had a chance."