PEBBLE BEACH, Calif.

Being ranked No. 1 in the world would be great and all, especially when it has looked for years like an impossible long shot. But this week, that goal is a distant second. While rankings come and go, the names engraved on the U.S. Open trophy are there to stay.

The reality is, Phil Mickelson can do both this week. If he finally wins the Open after a record five second-place finishes, he finally overtakes Tiger Woods for No. 1 in the world golf rankings - unfathomable as recently as last year. Fine. Mickelson's career has been defined by Woods' shadow. Still, being No. 1 in the world is like being named "Best Dressed" in your high school yearbook: nice, but nothing major.

"I think everybody who plays golf as a professional is motivated to try to become No. 1," Mickelson said. "It's not an area that I focus on. I don't know the ranking system or world points or how that works, nor do I care. I just know that if I continue to play well, ultimately in the long run, it will happen."

For the record, it will happen here at Pebble Beach this week under a few scenarios. Mickelson will become No. 1 if a) he wins, b) he finishes second and Woods is not among the top four or c) he finishes third and Woods is 19th or worse.

Also for the record: big deal. They don't give a $1.3-million check for being No. 1 in the world. They don't give you silver hardware or a green jacket. And they don't remember you forever.

A win in the U.S. Open, on the other hand, never is forgotten. Exhibit A was walking around Pebble Beach Wednesday. Jack Fleck, an obscure club pro and marginal tour player for all but one week of his career, was a special guest of the U.S. Golf Association. He is a golf celebrity at 89 because he tied Ben Hogan at the end of regulation and beat the golf legend in a playoff at the 1955 U.S. Open.

"He was so nice to me," Fleck said of Hogan. "We were the only two playing Hogan clubs and I was the first one he ever made golf clubs for. He brought me two wedges on the Saturday before the tournament."

Fleck remembered George Tompkins, the fellow who told him what scores he needed to tie Hogan (the leaders didn't go last back then). He remembered his first-place share of $6,000. More to the point, people remember Fleck enough to visit his website. That's what winning the U.S. Open does for you.

Winning any major is like getting to the top of a mountain. The mountain just seems higher at the U.S. Open. "Well, generally it's the highest rough we play all year," Woods said. "It's the narrowest fairways, the hardest greens, the trickiest pins. Other than that, it's pretty simple. It's a long grind. It's different from most major championships. You're not going to make a lot of birdies and the whole idea is to not make any big numbers because it's hard to get them back."

Tom Watson is a former No. 1 player who is far better known for having won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, with a stunning chip-in from the rough on No. 17. He is here this week to play in his 31st Open and admitted he's still trying to figure it out. "The U.S. Open," Watson said, "brings about some negative thoughts."

Except if you have won it. Mickelson's No. 1 goal this week is to know the feeling. "It isn't over yet, he can still win," said Fleck, who knows that there is nothing in golf like being No. 1 for the last week of June.

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