UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. - The toughest part about being Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson these days is explaining why they no longer produce the results that once made them the center of attention in a good way.
Woods and Mickelson took turns Tuesday in the U.S. Open interview room trying to explain away the effects of some high numbers that have forced them to look in the mirror. For Woods, it was his career-worst 85 in the final round of The Memorial two weeks ago and his fall to No. 195 in the world rankings. For Mickelson, Tuesday was his 45th birthday, which generated a lot of age-related questions.
While some give Mickelson a chance to pull a rabbit out of his hat in the only major that has eluded him after six second-place finishes, Woods essentially was asked what makes him think he can compete in a major so soon after his Memorial regression. He cited his ability to bounce back from similar early season disasters at Torrey Pines, where he withdrew, and Phoenix, where he missed the cut after an 82, with a 17th-place finish in the Masters.
"The fact that I came back and did what I did at Augusta, I was very proud of that," Woods said. "And I had a chance going to Sunday. If you look at how I played at Torrey and Phoenix, I'm sure most people thought I was probably crazy to think I could win the Masters. But I really felt like I could. I had a chance; I just didn't get it done."
As for the closing 85 in The Memorial that included a quadruple-bogey eight on the final hole, Woods chalked it up to the fact he still is working on swing changes with new coach Chris Como under game conditions. "Obviously, I've got to do it in front of the world, and sometimes, it's tough," Woods said. "The good news is I've done it before in my career, I know what it feels like and I know how tough it is to go through those rounds.
"The manager is not going to come out to the mound and bring in the righty or the lefty. You've got to stick it out and go through all nine innings whether you get shelled or not. It's hard, but that's the nature of our sport.
While Woods strained to remain optimistic, Mickelson voiced some caution about how close he might be to a breakthrough even though he is coming off a third-place finish last week in Memphis that was his best of the year.
"I've gone through a period these last couple years where I haven't played my best golf, and I feel like I'm back on the upswing," Mickelson said. "I feel like I have the proper direction of my game, but you just never know. It's been a while since I played my best golf, so we'll see.
"But this golf course allows for a short game to save shots that may be less than perfect. It doesn't force you to play perfect golf."
Mickelson said he has regained the swing speed he had lost and the fitness to get back to hitting 400 to 500 balls a day. If he can win at 45, Mickelson would match Hale Irwin as the oldest U.S. Open winner.
"I still have a huge challenge that I am trying to overcome and that's to win a U.S. Open and complete the career Grand Slam," Mickelson said. "It's not a burden. It's an exciting opportunity . . . I'm 45, and I still love golf and appreciate the fact I'm able to play at the highest level."
Well, not as high as he and Woods used to be, but they're here with a chance.