Part of me admires Phil Mickelson and part of me pities him. All of me is entertained by the golfer affectionately referred to by his fans as lefty and just as much of me has to concede that the nickname Mickelson receives from his detractors (choker) is equally accurate.
Mickelson should have won his first United States Open championship on Sunday at Merion. He entered the final round with the lead and no one in contention managed to break par. All Mickelson needed to do to win was continue to execute his conservative game plan of hitting fairways and greens with robotic consistency.
He has the talent to do it (as he showed quite capably through the first three rounds), but when the pressure is at its greatest, the man who may well be the most beloved golfer in the world crumbles far more often than he doesn't.
You don't need to look any further than his heart-breaking U.S. Open career for a multitude of examples of Mickelson shrinking from the big moment.
In 1999 he missed an eight-foot birdie putt on the 71st hole that would have put him in an 18-hole playoff with Payne Stewart. In 2004 Mickelson had a one-shot lead going into the 71st hole and made a double-bogey that included a three-putt from inside of feet that sent him to a runner-up finish. And then of course there was 2006 when all he needed was a par on the 72nd hole to claim victory, but another double-bogey cost him even a shot at a playoff.
Unforced errors are the common denominator in all of those near-misses. They were prevalent again on Sunday in his record sixth second-place finish at the national championship of golf.
Mickelson double-bogeyed the third and fifth holes. He missed the green on the 100-yard par-three 13th which led to a bogey. Then he left a gap wedge well short from 121 yards in the center of the fairway on the 15th hole. When he failed to get up and down, Mickelson dropped out of a tie for the lead.
Lefty needed a birdie, and to his credit, he put himself in ideal position to get exactly that on the 16th hole. He put his approach shot to within 10 feet and had a relatively flat putt to tie Justin Rose atop the leader board.
He missed it and would never get another realistic shot to pull even with Rose. His 74 resulted in another blown opportunity for Mickelson.
Of course afterward he handled himself with the unbelievable class that has become his trademark. Lefty has perfected being gracious in defeat. Unfortunately that is because he has cost himself so many opportunities at victory and has had plenty of practice at it.
Sometimes something is simply not meant to be. Maybe Mickelson raising the U.S. Open trophy is just one of those things. But if that's so, Mickelson can curse his fate, but he has no one to blame but himself.