Mickelson a bridesmaid yet again at the U.S. Open
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
ARDMORE, Pa. -- There is no bigger holiday for Phil Mickelson than Father’s Day. But it also continues to be brutally bittersweet for golf’s ultimate Family Guy.
Once, twice ... six times a bridesmaid at the U.S. Open, no occasion more stinging than the 113th edition at Merion Golf Club, where for the first time Mickelson had the lead going into the final day of the national championship only to fall short. Again.
“For me it's very heartbreaking,” Mickelson said. “This is tough to swallow after coming so close. This was my best chance of all of them. I had a golf course I really liked. I felt this was as good an opportunity as you could ask for. It really hurts.”
Never more than on Sunday.
Mickelson’s week began with a cross-country trip to San Diego and back on the eve of the tournament to see his oldest daughter Amanda’s eighth grade graduation -- the same daughter born the day after his first runner-up in a U.S. Open in 1999 at Pinehurst. He returned to Merion just hours before his opening-round tee time on Thursday and shot 67 to take the lead.
Three days later, Mickelson was still on top after holing out for eagle from 75 yards from the thick, tangled rough on the 10th hole. It sent a roar that could be heard clear across Phil-adelphia.
Finally, the stars seemed to be aligned. But the putts weren’t. Time and again, Mickelson burned the edge of one cup after another and watched his chances for his first career U.S. Open title go up in smoke.
“The stroke felt fabulous all day, starting at the first hole,” Mickelson said, searching for an explanation. “I can't believe that ball didn't go in."
And on it went.
“Second hole, I hit a good putt," he continued.
“I hit a good putt for eagle on 4.
“Hit a good putt on 6 -- I thought I made that.
“I thought I made the one on 8.
“Thought I made the one on 9.
“The one on 11 wasn't great, but I thought I had a chance on 12.
“Certainly 16, I thought I made.
“There were a number that could have gone in.”
Some birthday present for Mickelson, who turned 43 on Sunday. It wasn’t the first time someone else got to blow out the candles.
Bethpage Black in 2009: After tying for the lead with an eagle on the 13th hole in the final round, Mickelson missed a short birdie putt on 14, had a three-putt bogey on 15, missed another short putt on 16 and made another bogey 17 to finish two shots back.
Winged Foot in 2006: Needing par to win on the final hole, Mickelson’s tee shot bounced off a hospitality tent, his second clanged off a tree and he eventually made double bogey to finish one back of an equally-stunned Geoff Ogilvy, who was already in the clubhouse. “I still am in shock that I did that,” Mickelson said then. “I just can't believe that I did that. I am such an idiot."
Shinnecock Hills in 2004: After back-to-back birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 to take the lead on Sunday, Mickelson three-putted from 5 feet to double bogey the 17th and eventually finished two back of Retief Goosen.
Bethpage Black in 2002: Mickelson made a Sunday charge at Tiger Woods, birdieing the 15th and 17th holes with the New York crowd cheering him on against the world's best player, but he ultimately fell three strokes shy of Woods.
Pinehurst in 1999: On the eve of his first child being born, Mickelson watched as Payne Stewart poured in a 15-foot par putt on the final hole to win by one.
Even the Buffalo Bills weren't that unfortunate. They were only 0-for-4 in the Super Bowl.
Winner Justin Rose could relate, though.
“This is definitely a tough defeat for Phil,” he said.
Rose knows a little something about that. As a 17-year-old amateur the golf world was at his feet after he finished fourth at the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale, where he holed a shot from 50 yards for birdie on the final hole.
The following day, Rose turned professional -- and proceeded to miss the cut in his first 21 starts. His world ranking plummeted and it took years for Rose to painstakingly work his way all the way back to what was his first career major championship.
“I feel for him,” said Rose, who shot an even-par 70 that included a couple of clutch pars at the end, including on 18, where his 4-iron approach was every bit as magical as Ben Hogan's famous 1-iron 63 years earlier. “Obviously the crowd was -- it was a tough day for him, too, I'm sure dealing with his birthday, dealing with the pressure of having finished second here six times. It couldn't have been easy for him.”
Mickelson at times made it hard on himself.
On the easiest hole on the golf course, the par-3 13th, he sailed a sand wedge over the green and made bogey.
Two holes later, Mickelson came up well short of the flag with his approach from 120 yards. With the fringe in his way, he had to use one of his five wedges to chip from the front part of the putting surface. The ball shot 25 feet past the hole and again Mickelson made bogey.
Needing birdie on the 520-yard par-4 18th -- the second-most difficult hole on the golf course -- Mickelson, playing without a driver for the week, could have used the big stick this time.
Putting a little extra oomph into his 3-wood, he missed the fairway well to the left and had no chance of reaching the green on his next shot. The damage was done and so was Mickelson, who shot 74 to finish two back of Rose.
The score and the result, though, weren't entirely reflective of how good most of Mickelson's game was all week on a golf course in which no one finished under par.
“It was just the best that I've had,” Mickelson said of his iron play. “I hit a ton of mid- and long-irons very solidly and where I wanted to.
“This could have been a really big turnaround for me on how I look at the U.S. Open."
Instead, Father's Day, which is when the final round of the U.S. Open is played every year, continues to be the best of times and the worst of times for the dad of three.
“This one's probably the toughest for me," he said before departing Merion, where there's an old adage among the club's caddies of how the first six holes are drama, the second six are comedy and the last six are tragedy.
For Mickelson, the U.S. Open is something else: "I just keep feeling heartbreak.”