x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Fans right behind 'Lefty'

If Phil Mickelson needed any more than the normal inspiration at the 109th US Open golf tournament at Bethpage Black he got it from his wife Amy.

Phil Mickelson signs autographs following his practice round at Bethpage State Park's Black Course in Farmingdale.
Phil Mickelson signs autographs following his practice round at Bethpage State Park's Black Course in Farmingdale.

NEW YORK// If Phil Mickelson needed any more than the normal inspiration at the 109th US Open golf tournament at Bethpage Black he got it from his wife Amy. Mickelson took a month off to tend to her needs after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. But he returned this week at her insistence to challenge Tiger Woods and a field of 154 others in a tournament he has finished runner-up four times.

"She left me a number of little notes, texts, cards, hints that she would like to have a silver trophy in her hospital room," he said. "So I'm going to try to accommodate that." The efforts of "Lefty" will be buoyed by a raucous daily crowd of over 42,000 loud-mouthed New Yorkers who adopted him when the tournament first came to Bethpage in 2002. Woods beat Mickelson by three strokes then and was the only golfer to break par at 277 but it was Mickelson who won the crowd over with his tenacity.

Mickelson is hoping the crowds will lift him to victory, and Woods knows it could work in his rival's favour. "It's going to be loud," Woods said. "It's one of those things where you try to find energy somewhere because I can only speak from my experience with my dad [Earl]. Losing someone close to me, you don't sleep much. To find energy from outside the ropes sometimes, that's a great thing." Mickelson acknowledged that competing in the tournament is, in some ways, a relief. "I did enjoy having a bit of a reprieve in getting on a golf course and forcing myself to concentrate on something else," he said.

"I'm going to do the best I can. I feel like my game is ready. I feel like emotionally I'm better but you just never know. "I love playing in the New York area. The people have treated me and my family incredibly. It could be that the support helps carry me through emotionally when I'm on the course. I'm certainly hoping for that." What he is not hoping for is a repeat of his historic meltdown at the 2006 Open at Winged Foot, another famous New York course. Leading by a stroke on the final hole he hit his drive off a tent, nailed a tree with his second shot and double bogeyed to lose by one. When it was over he called himself "an idiot". New Yorkers loved him for his raw emotions and jocular honesty.

rborges@thenational.ae