Phil Mickelson’s Torrey Pines relationship as dour as ever

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SAN DIEGO — The romantic angle to the Phil Mickelson U.S. Open story this week is obvious, except that it’s a lie. At the very least, it’s a stretch of the truth.

Sure, Mickelson is a hometown boy who has a chance to make history at his local course.

It’s all there in front of you, like room service.

Mickelson, who turns 51 on Wednesday and is just weeks removed from his remarkable PGA Championship victory at Kiawah Island, grew up minutes away from Torrey Pines and played there as a youth.

A win this week would make him only the sixth player in the history of the sport to complete a career Grand Slam, winning all four major championships.

But Mickelson and Torrey Pines — since architect Rees Jones was brought in to renovate and strengthen the South Course in 2001 as it hoped to land a U.S. Open (it did with the 2008 Open) — have not exactly been prom dates turned steadies turned engaged turned married.

The truth is: Mickelson, though measured and diplomatic in his public statements about it over the years, has never liked the changes Jones made to the course, and his results at Torrey Pines have reflected his disdain.

Phil Mickelson of the United States plays his shot from the 15th tee during a practice round prior to the start of the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course
Phil Mickelson looks to finally conquer hometown course Torrey Pines.
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In the nine years Mickelson played the Farmers Insurance Open, the annual PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, he posted five top-three finishes, and his average score was 69.33 on the South Course during the weekend with 53 percent of his rounds in the 60s.

In 18 starts since, he has four top-six finishes, a scoring average of 71.45 and only 29 percent of his rounds in the 60s. His lowest weekend score since 2001 is a 68.

In the past seven Farmers Insurance Opens, Mickelson has missed the cut three times, withdrawn once with a sore back and skipped one year to play in the Middle East. His best finish in that span was a tie for 14th in 2017.

“Mickelson lost all of his home-course advantage when they redid that golf course,” Paul Azinger said on an NBC conference call last week.

“I spent so many hours as a kid that, when the course was redesigned, all that local knowledge went away,’’ Mickelson said Monday, referring to playing high school matches at Torrey Pines.

Mickelson won at Torrey Pines on Feb. 11, 2001, when the event was called the Buick Invitational. Three months later, the Jones redesign began. In 2002, Torrey Pines was awarded the 2008 U.S. Open, famously won by Tiger Woods.

What Mickelson has done leading into this week is take a different tack than he usually does leading into a major. Instead of playing the week before, which he usually does, Mickelson spent some six hours a day last week at Torrey Pines after it was closed to the public working specifically on the greens.

Because one of his intangible strengths has always been his power of positive attitude, Mickelson has spent time at Torrey convincing himself to embrace the place he’s essentially disliked for the past two decades.

“It’s a unique opportunity because I’ve never won a U.S. Open,’’ Mickelson said after playing the back nine in a practice round with Bryson DeChambeau and young lefty Akshay Bhatia. “It’s in my backyard. I have a chance to prepare properly, and I wanted to put in the right work. So, I’ve kind of shut off all the noise. I’ve shut off my phone. I’ve shut off a lot of the other stuff to where I can kind of focus in on this week and really give it my best chance to try to play my best.

“I know that I’m playing well, and I just wanted to give myself every opportunity to be in play at my best. So, I really made an effort here, having the last week off, to spend time out here and really relearn the greens. I spent a lot of hours out here on the greens last week to see if I can get that local knowledge again, and we’ll see how it goes.’’

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