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Phil Mickelson is upbeat despite being out of Open contention

Phil Mickelson hits his tee shot on the

Phil Mickelson hits his tee shot on the second hole as Webb Simpson looks on during the third round of the 114th U.S. Open on June 14, 2014 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Credit: Getty Images / Tyler Lecka

PINEHURST, N.C. - He's been the star in residence at this U.S. Open.

So much has been written about Phil Mickelson returning to Pinehurst where 15 years ago he was beaten by a shot by Payne Stewart.

So much about Mickelson's record six second-place finishes, including that one, which was the very first.

So much about Mickelson needing a U.S. Open victory to go with his wins in the Masters, British Open and PGA Championship to complete the career Grand Slam.

But after an opening-round even-par 70, which kept the anticipation at a high level, Mickelson had a 3-over 73 on Friday and then a 2-over 72 Saturday in the third round. He is at 5-over-par 215, out of the top 25.

Yet if Mickelson, who will be 44 Monday, has lost this 114th Open, he hasn't lost his sense of humor.

"I think I can shoot 4 or 5 under," he said about Sunday's final round, "end up around even, finish second again."

Cue laughter, if somewhat subdued. At least, unlike the Masters in April where he didn't make the cut, Mickelson played all four rounds in the Open, the second of the four majors.

Yet, he has not had a finish in the top 10 on the PGA Tour since last August, his last 14 starts, and putting, once one of the strongest parts of his game, has fallen off. Although he said he was "great" on the greens Saturday, he ranks 99th in Tour putting statistics.

"You know, my results aren't very good," said Mickelson, expressing an athlete's eternal optimism, "but my game doesn't feel that bad. I'm not discouraged about my game. I'm not worried about it. I just -- I haven't quite put it together yet."

That might be justified coming from a kid who's been on Tour only a year or two. Mickelson, however, turned pro in 1992, during the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and has 51 victories, 42 of those on Tour. One might wonder if he's growing too old, having reached that mid-40s mark when many golfers decline.

"But I'm excited about the fact my driving took a whole different turn," he said, countering the idea his career is in trouble. "I feel like I have control. It's easy for me to hit. I've always felt when I drive the ball well I'm tough to beat because my iron play is usually pretty good. Today it wasn't."

Mickelson had three bogeys and a single birdie Saturday. He was even par for the round through 13, then plugged in a bunker at 14 and missed the green at 16.

"Pins were very difficult," he said. "The only birdie pin I thought was 18. But the greens were receptive.

"You have to take baby steps, if you will. So a good step for me is a good, solid round [today]. I'll play a good solid round, not really worry about the results and see if I can finish the year strong."

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