Phil Mickelson’s quest to end US Open nightmare is on its last legs

Phil Mickelson will turn 49 Sunday, the day of the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

What are the chances that he’ll be standing on the first tee at Pebble on the final round with a chance to win on that day?

Regardless of his age, because of who he is, how he embraces the big moments, how motivated he remains and what he’s done, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he is in the mix to win the U.S. Open on Sunday.

If he is in the hunt, this is what Mickelson will face: Completing the career Grand Slam as a winner of all four major championships.

It’s a feat that’s been accomplished by only five players in the history of the game — Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and most recently Tiger Woods.

Since Mickelson won the 2013 British Open at Muirfield, this week will mark his sixth attempt at completing the Slam.

Mickelson has finished runner-up a record six times in the U.S. Open, the most recent his second-place finish in 2013 at Merion.

A U.S. Open is something Mickelson desperately wants to win for a couple of reasons. The Slam, of course. But it always has been his most coveted major championship title, even before he won his first major, the Masters in 2004.

His realistic window of opportunity, of course, is closing before his eyes.

What if it never happens after all of those close calls?

“No matter what, he’s going to be one of the greatest players that’s ever played this game,’’ Tiger Woods said. “How he’s viewed and whether he wins the career Grand Slam or not, I still think he’s one of the best players to ever pick up a golf club.

“There’s only five guys that have done it, so that’s the hard part,’’ Woods went on. “It’s just one of those fickle things. You’ve had some of the greatest champions of all time that have been missing one leg of the Grand Slam [Arnold Palmer, for example, never won a PGA Championship].

“So, for a person [Mickelson] who we all know hasn’t driven the ball as straight as he would probably like, he’s had six seconds in the U.S. Open. That’s incredible to be there that many times. He’s figured out a way to play well in the U.S. Open. It just happens to be one of those things where he hasn’t won, but he’s been there. And wouldn’t surprise me if he’s there again.’’

There is some mojo going for Mickelson, too, at Pebble Beach, where he won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. He’s won the AT&T four times and the last time the U.S. Open was played at Pebble, he finished tied for fourth in 2010.

Overall, this will be Mickelson’s 27th U.S. Open in a professional career that has included 44 victories and five major championships.

“There’s not much I could do right now that would do anything to redefine my career, but there’s one thing I could do, and that would be to win a U.S. Open,” Mickelson said. “So if I were to do that, it would change the way I view my career because there are only, what, five guys that have ever won all the majors. And you have to look at those guys differently.”

“The difficulty is not the age,’’ he said. “The difficulty is that when you’re in your 20s you feel like you have multiple chances’. And when you’re turning 49, you’re like ‘I’ve got two more chances, this year and maybe [in 2020 at] Winged Foot [where he finished runner-up in 2006] and that’s about it. With that being the only one in the four that I haven’t won, and what it would offer me and how I look at my career, I put more pressure on it. That’s the difficult thing.

“It would be pretty special to be part of the elite players that have won all four. To me that’s the sign of a complete game. It would redefine my career.’’

“I don’t think about [the Grand Slam] a lot,’’ he insisted, but added, “I do think about what I have to do to win a U.S. Open. And it’s getting increasingly difficult.’’

Paul Azinger, the former player who is now an analyst for NBC, wonders whether Mickelson’s burning desire to finally win a U.S. Open will increase the degree of difficulty. But he, too, believes this week is set up well for Mickelson.

“Of course he wants it too much,’’ Azinger said. “[But] he’s going to a place that he knows like the back of his hand. There’s not a better scenario for Phil Mickelson to get a U.S. Open. Expectations will by sky high … off the charts. He’s already trying to deflect — saying his winning there [in February] has no bearing whatsoever [on the U.S. Open]. He’s an artist at redirecting pressure. The redirect is a great gift.

“But I can’t tell Phil how to think; he can’t teach me how to think,’’ Azinger went on. “He knows how to think. Phil is disciplined enough and he knows what he’s doing. Phil has proven he can play in the elements and he knows the greens. You’ve got to know how the ball is going to bounce and react on those poa annua grass. A lot of guys are going to misjudge that first hop. But Phil won’t. He’s been there for most of his life.’’

Mickelson’s grandfather, Al Santos, was one of the first caddies at Pebble Beach. Mickelson said his grandfather carried a 1900 silver dollar in his pocket while he worked, and passed it down to Mickelson, who uses it as a ball marker whenever he plays there.

“What an American dream,’’ CBS golf commentator Jim Nantz said. “Instead of what his grandfather was making, 25 cents a bag, now he’s going to close out the career Grand Slam on the sacred sod of Pebble Beach, what a story that would be. The story is too good and his record is too good there for me to overlook it.”

Said Azinger: “I think six seconds should equal one win. I’d lobby for that.’’

Of course, golf doesn’t work that way.

“I have such great memories here,” Mickelson said. “I would love to add to it.”