SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — At the stroke of midnight, Phil Mickelson would turn 48. But there he was on Friday, with the Shinnecock Hills practice green all to himself, searching in the gloaming for the one missing piece in his Hall of Fame career.
In the second round of his 27th United States Open, Mickelson chased his opening 77 with a one-under-par 69 to keep alive his dream of completing a career Grand Slam.
“I played a lot better today,” said Mickelson, who finished the day 10 strokes behind the leader, Dustin Johnson.
After making bogeys on two of the first three holes, Mickelson was nine over for the tournament and in danger of missing the cut. But he covered the final 15 holes in three under and advanced to the weekend at six over, with two strokes to spare.
“Half the battle for me was I had to play the last 15 in under par just to make the cut,” Mickelson said. “So I had to fight hard just to get to this point.”
With his post-round practice, Mickelson addressed the other half of the battle. Despite making obvious progress, Mickelson still wasn’t satisfied with his performance on or around the greens, which is usually his strength.
So after signing his scorecard, signing autographs for fans and speaking with the news media, Mickelson spent 20 minutes rolling putts and hitting chips in front of his swing coach, Andrew Getson.
Mickelson began the week as one of five players in the field who had competed in the 1995 United States Open here. After Friday, he and Steve Stricker (eight over) were the last men standing from that group, which also included Tiger Woods (10 over), Ernie Els (17 over) and Kenny Perry (18 over).
Mickelson finished in a six-way tie for fourth in 1995, four strokes behind the winner, Corey Pavin. One of the players who equaled Mickelson’s four-over score was Neal Lancaster, who stood at eight over after 63 holes, then closed in six under to post the first sub-30 score for nine holes in the event’s history.
Mickelson is old enough to remember such milestones and young-at-heart enough to believe he can repeat them.
“What happened in 1995 I will always remember,” Mickelson said. “I remember Neal Lancaster shooting 29 for nine holes and getting right back in it.”
On Saturday, in conditions that are supposed to be calm, “I think there’s a four-, five-, six-under round there,” he added. “If I can shoot that, or anybody who just made the cut can shoot that, I think there’s potential. You just never know in this tournament.”
Nobody knows how quickly one’s fortunes can change at the Open better than Mickelson, who has a record six runner-up finishes. Three of those have come on courses on Long Island, where the fans adore him as if he were one of their own.
As Mickelson was signing oversize balls and pin flags and glossy photographs in the autograph area, one man nudged his son and said, loudly enough for Mickelson to hear, “Did you tell him you wouldn’t wash your hand after he fist-bumped you?”
As Mickelson was answering reporters’ questions, one woman who was wearing credentials for a hospitality suite, blurted out, “You’re my favorite.”
Mickelson thanked her, then fielded the next question.
The encouragement of the New York-area fans, he said, “has helped me stay on a much better positive energy all four days and through the highs and lows of a U.S. Open golf course. So it’s been a huge plus for me to be in the New York area.”
A huge plus for Mickelson the first two days was that he did not have a score worse than a bogey on his scorecard. (Jordan Spieth, who played in Mickelson’s group, had two double bogeys and a triple as he missed the cut by a stroke.)
“I did what I set out to do, which was to hit the fairways and not make worse than bogey,” said Mickelson, who has 10 bogeys. “I have not made a double bogey; that’s a big thing for me,” he added. “That’s going to continue to be my goal.”