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Mickelson 'Looking Forward' to Challenge on Sunday
Phil Mickelson is nothing if not an optimist. Even though the 42-year-old has finished second five times in the U.S. Open, each year is a new one that provides an opportunity to finally win America's national golf championship.
Once again, the four-time major champion is in good position at a U.S. Open. After an even-par 70 Saturday at Merion Golf Club's tough East Course, Mickelson is the only player under par through 54 holes, at 1-under 209, a shot ahead of Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker and Charl Schwartzel.
On Saturday evening, Mickelson met with reporters and discussed his performance so far and his attitude heading into the final round. Here's what he told the media.
Q. One stroke lead going into the final round of the U.S. Open on your birthday, on Father's Day. It's apt to be some pretty good theater out there.
PHIL MICKELSON: It's going to be a fun day tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to it I'm looking forward to facing the challenge of Merion again. It's a wonderful test. I think that there are holes that are obviously very difficult pars, some of the hardest par holes that we have ever played. But we have also have a number of birdie opportunities, much more so than in years past. So there's a great mixture of holes and it's been fun to test ourselves.
Q. Talk about the birdie on 17.
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, on the tee I'm just thinking three. I just want to hit the green and make par and see if I could make a putt. But the 4 iron I hit was I just stood there and admired it, it was one of the best shots I've ever hit. I mean it just was right down the center of the green and I was hoping it would kind of get the right bounces and so forth and it did. It left me a beautiful uphill putt that I could be aggressive with and I made it. And it was that was fun to do that because that's just not a hole you expect to get one back.
Q. How many times have you lead the U.S. Open after 54 holes? And does this time feel a little bit different with all the experiences that you've had?
PHIL MICKELSON: I love being in the thick of it. I've had opportunities in years past, and it has been so fun, even though it's been heart breaking to come so close a number of times and let it slide. But I feel better equipped than I have ever felt heading into the final round of a U.S. Open. My ball striking is better than it's ever been. My putting is better than it has been in years, and I feel very comfortable on this golf course. I love it. Given that I've had some past major championships now and some success here, I feel as well equipped as I could be heading into tomorrow's final round and I think it's going to be fun. I have the opportunity to play with a friend of mine, Hunter Mahan, and his caddie Woody is great friend of Bones and I and it should be a fun day.
Q. You said you thought the greens today would be even more receptive. Do you still feel that way?
PHIL MICKELSON: They were much smoother today than they were yesterday by far. The 4 or 5 footers you didn't sweat over as much because if you started it on line, it would go in. So it made a big difference.
Q. Do you feel like yesterday and today if you had made half those birdie attempts that you've had, you could have a 4 or 5 shot lead.
PHIL MICKELSON: That's true. That's true. I've come very close. Today I hit a number of good putts that didn't quite go in. I had opportunities, I mean the putt on last hole, I didn't want to hit it too hard because I thought it would go through the break. I tried to get the right pace and it pulled up right short in the center. The one on 16, I couldn't hit a better putt. I was waiting it for it to eke a little bit left at the hole and it never did. And those opportunities will hopefully fall in tomorrow, because I'm getting the ball started on my line with the right pace and I can't worry about what could be, I've got to go out tomorrow and play a good round.
Q. Do you feel more pressure tomorrow?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think I feel any more pressure than anybody else who wants to win the Tournament, a major championship, the U.S. Open. But it would certainly mean a lot to me that this is a tournament for years I've had opportunities, I've come close to, and it would mean a lot tomorrow if I could play some of my best golf. Certainly if I can play the way I have been.
Q. You're a big sports fan, is there one team that you would draw inspiration from who tried and tried and then finally got over the hump?
PHIL MICKELSON: The Eagles have come close a number of times at the Super Bowl, but I don't know. I don't want to go there. I don't know.
Q. Would you take even par over the final five holes?
PHIL MICKELSON: Oh, sure. Those are not holes you're trying to make birdies on. I played them even par today and I was almost thrilled. I had a chance on 18 to play them under. But those are difficult holes and you've got to make up your ground early. I got off to a poor start yesterday, and today I got off to a better start. I was a couple over yesterday, a couple over today, and fortunately I was able to be patient and not force the issue, wait for some birdie holes and continue making pars until I got to them and make up some ground. And if it happens tomorrow where I get off to a poor start, I'll have to do the same thing. But I'm hoping to make a birdie here or there.
Q. You come to major venues like this well in advance, do a lot of preparation, sometimes modify your equipment, how do you change your mental approach when you come to a major championship, especially at the U.S. Open where patience is something that's just so rewarded here?
PHIL MICKELSON: When you mean change my approach, do you mean going from one tournament Regular Tour event to here?
Q. Just like do you mentally have to change the way you're going to be especially aggressive at some tournaments, you're going to have to be more patient, accept that par is a better score? Do you change the way you approach the game?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, in my preparation I know that the conditions are entirely different and so I prepare accordingly. So when I show up here, I don't have to change the way I prepared because I knew that it was going to be difficult and I knew the rough was going to be thick, I knew where the pin positions were going to be fairly difficult, so I didn't have to change from a week and a half ago when I set out my game plan. But certainly it's a different style of golf than we play week in and week out. But preparing for a U.S. Open now and playing in a number of them, I don't know about 20 or so now over the years, that I know what to expect. I just have to prepare for it properly and then when I show up, stick to my game plan.
Q. How will you spend the morning?
PHIL MICKELSON: Grab a little breakfast. I don't know, just watch a watch some TV, hopefully sleep. But I don't sleep very well during majors. I'm lucky to get a few, four or five or six hours. That would be great.
Q. You sound like you really genuinely love this course and this setup. How does that factor into the mindset going into tomorrow?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think it's helped me this week, one, how much I've loved the golf course and the setup. But two, how much I've appreciated the fact that there are some birdie holes. That if I can I might be one or two in the round like I was, but if I can make a couple more pars so I get to some birdie holes, I have a chance to get those back. And that's what I love about Merion is that the discrepancy between the really hard holes and the potential birdie holes and as a player, that's what we want because it gives us opportunities to separate ourselves from the guys that aren't playing their best.
Q. 43's a pretty big number. Do you ever feel your golfing mortality?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, at 43, I feel as good as I've ever felt. I feel like I'm in better shape than I've been in years. I feel stronger than I've been, more flexible. And I've had no injuries or aches or pains. I've changed a lot of things since I have been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. I changed my diet, I changed the way I do things. But I feel terrific and I don't think that my golf swing, which is not predicated on violence and rotation and so forth, it's developed more on length and arc and leverage to create speed as opposed to physical brute force, has allowed me to play injury free for this many years. My body feels great.
Q. What's it going to take to win the U.S. Open?
PHIL MICKELSON: A low score. A good score tomorrow. I don't know what number that is, but I do believe I've got an under par round in me tomorrow even with the difficult pins and the possibly firmer conditions.
Q. Your birthday, Father's Day, U.S. Open Championship, pretty good Trifecta.
PHIL MICKELSON: It's got the makings to be something special, but I still have to go out and perform and play some of my best golf.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.