Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Don't Phil it up...

Bethpage "Black" was a name fit perfect for the scene of the U.S. Open that wrapped up on Monday. The first round teed off on Thursday before being prolonged by the rain. This Open will be remembered as one of the darkest, ugliest Majors in recent history. But it gets uglier.

The course had experienced rain in 16 of the past 19 days, which made it really tough to putt the ball well. Or maybe not. It was hard to call after seeing so many unbelievable shots, some a little wide without a decent break, some just short and not hit well enough. Their was still a clear effect from the rain on what is known to be such a difficult course.

Unfamiliar names like Lucas Glover and Ricky Barnes are the ones to remember after the tournament. They were the last men standing before Glover made par to take a two stroke victory in the Open. Barnes shot a second place 2-under along with 882nd ranked David Duval, who some people vaguely remember from an 8 year radar hiatus. Of course there was a another who tied for runner-up, a guy who has proved to be great at holding that position, Phil Mickelson. As the sentimental favorite for what I would assume every sports fan who's a sucker for a tear jerker, Mickelson just could not lose this tournament. The color of the mood in golf has been pink since Phil announced that his wife Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer. He wore the cancer ribbon on hit hats and rode the momentum of the crowd until it just wasn't enough. Only on a black course.

Tiger Woods' even par performance won't be thought of as a wonderfully played 63 on 72 wholes, with a failed putter on wet grass. This is the consensus favorite in every tournament whether you like him or not, but we won't even discuss how dark it was for him at Bethpage.

Woods won the tournament a year ago in what went down as one of the Top 5 Tiger Moments in history. It probably would be cool to have Top 5 Moments that people actually refer to as history. My favorite Tiger Moment took place in the 2001 Masters when he hit an opening round eagle shot on 13 that found its way into a creek (he bogeyed). Then he ended the final round with one of the all-time most amazing birdie shots on the 16th whole. The ball went up the slope and down into the whole after halting for at least 2 seconds, just to suspend the inevitable.

As unpopular as this will sound, that shot by Woods reminds me of Mickelson's image as a golfer in essence. He goes up, and as he falls, he gives the people the notion he won't go down. Then he does. There is no denying that he has had a wonderful career, with huge success on and off the course. He's a model for how the game should be approached and a gentleman among gentlemen... A champion among champions. But just as well, he's the 2nd best golfer in the world and more times than anyone else who has ever played.

Shall we discuss five distinguishing moments in Mickelson's career?

We can start with Monday when he made history of his own. He set the record for most 2nd place finishes in Majors (5), all of which coming at the U.S. Open. On Monday, he hit an eagle on the par-5 13th whole. I had given him the victory like I did in 2006, at this same tournament, in this same state. Remember that collapse? Too bad the final round is not shortened to 13 wholes, but even still, Phil doesn't seem to be able to handle that particular moment. He bogeyed 15, which was by far the hardest whole on the course. Then he bogeyed a gimme on 17. That kind of summed it all. As great as he plays and as great as he is, he's bogey when it matters most. He's been 2nd in more Majors that he's won. And even though he finished two strokes above Tiger on Monday, he remains in a seat not next to him, but behind him... At #2.

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