Shot for redemption waits for Lefty at Oakland Hills

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BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. --- Phil Mickelson already had crossed the finish line the last time he showed up at Oakland Hills.

Now he can only hope he's hitting his stride.

Mickelson is the betting favorite at the PGA Championship, his last chance to win a major in a year that has been filled with disappointment at the biggest events.

The 75 in the third round of the Masters Tournament knocked him out of contention. There were no drivers in his bag at the U.S. Open for two rounds. And he lost a ball at Royal Birkdale on his way to 79 in the first round, a major that ended before he could settle in for a cup of tea.

Not that this year has been a disaster.

"This is a big week," Mickelson said Tuesday. "Because right now my season, with just two wins, is just OK. But if I were able to come through on Sunday and win this event, it would make an OK year a great one."

It also might erase some sour memories of Oakland Hills.

Mickelson first met "The Monster" in 1996 and endured his worst finish in a U.S. Open over four rounds. He tied for 94th that week, 19 shots out of the lead.

Even more forgettable was his last trip to Oakland Hills for the Ryder Cup in 2004.

He already was under more scrutiny than usual for switching from Titleist to Callaway a week before. Then he went two days away from his teammates, taking a day off and spending another day working on the adjacent North Course. U.S. captain Hal Sutton paired him with Tiger Woods, and while neither played well in both their losses, Lefty caught the brunt of the blame.

Sutton then benched him, saying Mickelson would be a cheerleader.

It was a ragged finish to a brilliant year for Mickelson, who won his first major at the Masters Tournament, was second at the U.S. Open, missed a playoff at the British Open by one shot and was two shots out of a playoff at the PGA Championship.

But his swing was gone long before the Ryder Cup. That was when Mickelson used to pour so much into the majors that he had little left at the end of the year.

If last week was any indication, he's headed in the right direction.

Mickelson blew a chance to win the World Golf Championship at Firestone last week with three bogeys on the final four holes, but he wasn't nearly as alarmed as everyone else.

"Obviously, I didn't like the way I finished," he said. "But I was so glad that I was in a position to compete for the championship, to get back into contention, to have an opportunity where every putt counted and put myself in a pressure situation heading into this event. I would have loved to have won last week -- there's no arguing that point. But I really needed to be there like I was."

It wasn't his most unseemly collapse, but it still makes news.

Mickelson could make more headlines at Oakland Hills, a course that might prove to be the toughest major of the year. It's been stretched to almost 7,400 yards, a beast for par 70, and rain figures to make it feel longer.

"It's tougher than Torrey Pines, all things being equal," Geoff Ogilvy said.

Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in a playoff after finishing at 1-under 283. Trevor Immelman won the Masters at 8-under 280. Padraig Harrington won the British Open at 3-over 283, but Ogilvy doesn't count Royal Birkdale because of 35 mph wind.

"Nothing ever was going to get as tough as Birkdale. You could put an asterisk next to it," he said. "The irony will be that the U.S. Open could be the easiest course we play all year."

AT A GLANCE


WHERE: Bloomfield Township, Mich., at Oakland Hills Golf Club, South Course (7,395 yards, par 70)


WHEN: Thursday-Sunday


TV: TNT (Thursday-Friday, 1-7 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.) and CBS-Ch. 12 (Saturday-Sunday, 2-7 p.m.)


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