Glorious failure fresh in the memory as Mickelson returns to Baltusrol


They say nobody ever remembers who finished second, but a man set to go down as the proudest runner-up in the history of golf will be front and centre when the US PGA Championship begins on Thursday.

Phil Mickelson's losing role in a titanic tussle with Henrik Stenson at The Open will last just as long in the memory as the Swede's achievement in claiming the Claret Jug.

No less an authority than Jack Nicklaus himself labelled the nerveless shootout between the pair at Royal Troon a better spectacle than his famous 'Duel in the Sun' against Tom Watson at Turnberry in 1977.

Few who witnessed the gripping events on the Ayrshire coast this month would dare to disagree with the Golden Bear, Stenson claiming his first major championship thanks to an extraordinary last-day 63, reaching a new low mark for the event of 20 under, beating a record set by Tiger Woods at St Andrews in 2000.

It took one of the finest rounds in the annals of the game to deny Mickelson, whose overall score of 17 under would have been good enough to win 140 of the 144 Open Championships prior to this year's thriller.

After producing a masterclass, ultimately in vain, throughout four challenging days in Scotland, 'Lefty' demonstrated a similar aptitude for sportsmanship with his warm embrace of Stenson and gracious comments following what must have been an agonising defeat barely comprehensible to the watching public.

Already a hugely popular player, particularly in his native United States, Mickelson's performance on and off the course in Troon will have earned the big-hitting 46-year-old yet more admirers.

And those followers are certain to be out in force at Baltusrol Golf Club.

The historic venue in Springfield, New Jersey, has not hosted a major since the PGA Championship in 2005 when (you guessed it) Mickelson emerged victorious.

His famed genius around the greens was on display 11 years ago, as a flop shot from deep rough to within two feet of the final hole secured a one-shot triumph over Thomas Bjorn and Steve Elkington. 

That marked the second of his five major wins to date and the only one to arrive in the US PGA.

But if he can reproduce any of the sparkling form he demonstrated at The Open, the Californian will be a threat again this week.

Mickelson has been paired in a heavyweight group alongside world number one and defending champion Jason Day and two-time PGA champion Rory McIlroy.

The Northern Irishman finished tied fifth at Troon, 13 shots adrift of second place and 16 off the imperious Stenson.

But the world number four did well to remain under par after having the misfortune of playing in the worst of the bad weather on both Thursday and Friday.

Another potential challenger at Baltusrol is Mickelson's fellow American Dustin Johnson, ranked second behind Day and coming off a finish of two under to tie ninth at The Open.

Having both narrowly fallen short of a playoff at St Andrews last year, Australian Day and world number three American Jordan Spieth were tied for 22nd and 30th respectively at Troon after failing to tame the difficult links conditions.

The pair went on to become the winner and runner-up respectively at the 2015 US PGA at Whistling Straits and will hope for a similarly swift upturn in fortunes this year.

All three majors so far this year have been won by first-timers, including Johnson at the U.S. Open and Danny Willett at the Masters, setting the stage - should the favourites falter - for another man to make the step up on Sunday.