AKRON, Ohio -- Phil Mickelson thought it was a premonition.
The man who slept on a one-stroke lead had just dreamed he had won the U.S. Open. The feelings he had that Sunday morning prior to the final round at Merion were so real that it took him about a minute to realize his imagination had played a cruel trick on him.
Besides, no matter where he looked, that big silver loving cup was nowhere to be found.
"It was like, where is it?" Mickelson recalled. "And then it dawned on me where I was -- I was in a strange house. ... And I hadn't played the final round and I hadn't won it yet, and I still haven't won it."
So Mickelson, who went out and finished runner-up for a record sixth time that Sunday, can be forgiven if that little Claret Jug he won a month later at The Open Championship at Muirfield isn't far from his grasp. The chalice is emblematic of the third leg of the career Grand Slam for him, and it came a tournament many felt Mickelson might never win but did with a masterful 66 on what turned out to be a dream Sunday on the sun-kissed Scottish coast.
"Every day I wake up in the last nine days ... honestly, I look at the trophy to make sure that I haven't just dreamt that, that I actually did win it and I already played the final round," Mickelson said with a smile.
The five-time major champion returns to competition this week at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. He's been busy since returning from Scotland -- taking the Claret Jug on a visit to Callaway headquarters, ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange and playing a practice round at Oak Hill, site of next week's PGA Championship.
On Tuesday at Firestone Country Club, though, Mickelson was back to business. He's got his swing coach Butch Harmon here and with the family back home in San Diego, this week is all about golf.
"Starting today was really the first day that I was able to really work on my game and work on my touch, work on shot making and so forth, and it was not far off," Mickelson said. "I hit a lot of good shots today. I'm playing really well."
So well, in fact, that the 43-year-old Mickelson is extremely motivated to finish the season strong. He's already won twice this season and could take over No. 1 in the FedExCup with a win this week at Firestone. He's back to No. 2 in the world, as well.
|Here are the FedExCup top 5 as we enter the final month of the PGA TOUR season:|
|1. Tiger Woods||2,481||---|
|2. Matt Kuchar||2,203||278|
|3. B. Snedeker||2,178||303|
|4. Phil Mickelson||2,118||363|
|5. Billy Horschel||1,461||1,020|
"We've got the big event here, a World Golf Championship, we've got the PGA next week, and our FedExCup," Mickelson said. "So it's a lot of golf left. ... Right now I'm playing as well as I ever have and want to make sure I stay focused this week and next week because I think there's an opportunity to add to this year and make this year every bit as special as it can be."
Mickelson eased back into work mode when he played a practice round with his buddy Keegan Bradley, who happens to be the defending champion of the Bridgestone Invitational, on Tuesday.
"I was so thrilled for the guy," Bradley said when asked about Mickelson's Open Championship victory. "I just love to see him win because he puts in the effort that I feel is needed to win tournaments. ... I texted him, and it was fun to talk to him about the round."
At the same time, Bradley, who partnered with Mickelson for three wins at the Ryder Cup last year, couldn't resist needling his friend.
"I said I know you're the 'Champion Golfer of the Year' but I'll teach you how to play Akron if you want," Bradley said with a grin. "And he only responded with 'I won there when you were nine years old.'"
Mickelson's victory at the 1996 NEC World Series of Golf is one of 42 -- so far -- in his World Golf Hall of Fame career. He finally ended an 0-for-42 streak at the majors in 2004 at the Masters, a tournament he said he "always knew that I was going to win" because he'd contended there on a regular basis. He has won five majors since -- more than any player of his generation not named Tiger Woods.
"The emotion of winning my first major, winning a Green Jacket and being part of that history is something I'll always cherish and always have a place in my heart as being such a great achievement," Mickelson said.
The Open Championship, though, was another story. He'd only had two top-10s in 19 appearances at the game's oldest major. In fact, he'd never even won a tournament in the UK until the week before he headed to Muirfield at the Aberdeen Assets Management Scottish Open.
"I have not had that type of consistency there, and it's taken me a while over the course of my career to not just hit the golf ball low but to hit it low without spin," Mickelson said. "That's the challenge."
Now that he's met that challenge, Mickelson says he knows the indelible image of his career will be "showing off my Olympic jumping ability" with that flat-footed leap after the birdie putt on the 72nd hole at Augusta National dropped into the cup. The Open Championship, though, is his most satisfying to date.
"For me personally, the British Open is the greatest accomplishment I could ever get in my career because of the shots that I had to learn and the challenge that it created for me over the course of my career," Mickelson said.