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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open - Phalling Phlat in Phorty minutes

Winged Foot went from phestival to phuneral in phorty minutes.

We golf writers were all writing the leads. . At 6:24, it looked like the tournament was Mickelson’s.

Everyone in Mamaroneck – from the media, to the members on the terrace to the massive galleries around the golf course - thought the 2006 U.S. was over, the last few holes just a phormality for Phil Mickelson. It was supposed to be a victory lap.

But then the unthinkable happened. A meltdown of epic proportions. Here, in all their horror are the…


6:24 – Fresh off a birdie on 14, Mickelson calmly rolls in a short putt for par on 15 that gives him a two shot cushion over his nearest competitors.

6:26 – The gallery around 18 roars with delight as the scoreboard is changed to reflect Phil’s two shot lead with three to play. Cheers erupt from the terrace. Elderly gentlemen are high fiving. Women are actually weeping with joy and clapping as though rooting for the child of their loins. All New York City and Mamaroneck polite society are in joyful ecstacy. Sportswriters begin filing out of the media dining room to start to write their articles.

6:28 – Colin Montgomerie rolls in a twisting, double breaking seventy footer for birdie. He’s now just one shot off the lead. “Where was that two holes ago? A little late” observed one photographer clearly getting his gear ready for the Phil victory interview.

6:33 – Mickelson’s drive on 16 goes under a tree on the right side of the fairway.

6:34 – Montgomerie finds the dead center of the 18th fairway.

6:36 - Geoff Ogilvy improbably chips in from the rough for par. He stays at +5 for the tournament.

6:38 – Mickelson’s second shot is a punch that runs short of the green. He would eventually miss an eight foot putt and card a bogey, his lead is now one shot.

6:43 – Perhaps believing the roar behind him was Ogilve making birdie, not par, Montgomerie “sticks his iron in the fairway” (as he later put it) and plops his approach in the rough short of the right greenside bunker by 18 green. By now the gallery and media watching are muttering “what if” and “are we seeing this” to one another.

The shot of Monty's career and he hits it short and right - the ugliest shot in golf.

6:45 – In one of the only lunkhead moves by any fan all week, some chump fires off an airhorn as Montgomerie approaches his ball. He is quickly surrounded by New York State Police and removed.

6:46 – Montgomerie blades his shot from the rough and it finally stops forty feet left of the cup. Dismayed he shakes his head. The crowd gasps in horror absolutely shocked, not believing what they saw.

6:49 – After running his first putt nine feet by, Montgomerie missed the comebacker. His double bogey six leaves him at +6 for the tournament one behind Geoff Ogilvy who has found the fairway on 18 and two behind Mickelson.

6:51 – Ogilvy’s second shot lands just short of the green on 18.

6:52 – Despite hitting his Driver into a garbage can on 17 and still scrambling for par and needing only a par to win, Mickelson hits his driver so far left it bounces off the top of the hospitality tent. (THE HOSPITALITY TENT!) “I know I had not been hitting a lot of fairways, but I went with my bread and butter shot and just hit it left.” When asked why he did not club down to a four wood, he said “I thought about it, but did not feel comfortable hitting a much longer club into the green. It might not have made it as far into the corner of the dogleg as I would have liked.”

6:53 – Ogilvy chips to two feet.

6:57 – Ogilvy makes his par putt. While he is the leader in the clubhouse at +5, he retires to the locker room to watch and wait. His wife, soon to deliver their first child. Joins him in the locker room.

7:00 – With a huge elm directly between himself and the green, the clock strikes midnight for Mickelson for all intents and purposes as his attempt at a high shot comes out low and strikes the tree, shooting back towards him. The ball came to rest 25 yards form im and the tree is still in the way. The crowd gaps in horror, dumbfounded. Journalists, USGA officials, State Police and fans all exchange stunned looks. Mickelson’s face falls, his eyes widen and he gets a “deer in headlights expression that slowly steels over his face. He turns his head away for a moment. I knew right then and there, he blew the Open.

A sullen silence descends over Winged Foot. You could hear a pin drop.

7:03 – Mickelson’s third avoids the same tree, but ends up in a buried lie in the bunker. There is a sotf “Oh!” from a few people, but again, stunned looks were all the crowd could muster. Mickelson begins to shamble up the fairway.

7:05 – In a last gasp for air, a “Let’s Go Phil!” chant erupts from the crowd.

7:07 – Mickelson’s bunker shot runs twenty feet past the hole and just into the short rough. The crowd again gasps in horror. Then, the silent pall descended.

7:09 – The collapse is complete as Mickelson misses the chip. Outside no one talks or moves it seems. Completely stunned, filled with the same cathartic tragedy as the end of Romeo and Juliet, the crowd begins to file out. In the locker room, a shocked Ogilvy embraces his pregnant wife, family and team. Hugs and handshakes ensue.


Mickelson played Russian Roulette with his driver all day and on eighteen he finally hit the chamber with the bullet in it. Mickelson hit merely a staggering two fairways all day - two. Moreover, the same 64 degree wedge Mickelson claimd saved him “one or two shots each day” abandoned him. He was 0 for 5 in sand saves today.

Montgomerie and Phil both double bogeyed 18 or they would have won. Jim Furyk would have made the playoff had he parred.

Mickelson gambled and lost despite having the experience of seeing both Payne Stewart and David Toms steal majors from under his nose by laying up and sinking 15 foot putts for par.

In calling Toms a wuss, a sports broadcaster friend opined, “He got lucky, they don’t put plaques in the fairway to commemorate guys that laid up.”

Yeah, but they don’t give out trophies to guys that take their shot and miss either.


Let’s not take anything away from Geoff Ogilvy, but let’s also put the day’s events in a historical perspective. Phil’s collapse, combined with Montgomerie’s improbable double bogey joins a short list of major championship horror stories for the ages.

- Sam Snead triple bogeys the last hole of the 1939 U.S. Open to lose to eventual playoff winner Byron Nelson.

- In 1966 Arnold Palmer blows a seven shot lead to lose to Billy Casper at Olympic Club.

- Roberto De Vicenzo signs an incorrect scorecard, attesting that he shot one stroke worse than he actually did. He is "assessed" the phantom stroke and misses a playoff by one shot. In broken English he laments "What a stupid I am.".

- Jean Van de Velde has a three shot lead going into 18 at Carnoustie during the 1999 British Open. He narrowly misses Barry Burn twice only to find it on his third shot. He sheds his shoes and socks to the delight of the crowd before his caddie talks sense into him and he takes a drop. His next shot finds the green side bunker. He escapes disaster for the moment by sinking a twelve-footer for the triple bogey seven, but loses in a playoff to Scotsman Paul Laurie.

- Stewart Cink three putts from two and a half feet to miss a playoof by one shot at the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills.

All in all one fact remains as inescapable today as it did before the champion ship:

No golf course in America has as much of a synergy of U.S. Open history and U.S. Open misery as Winged Foot.

Once again, as happens at every U.S. Open, the golf course won.


A distant relative of Sir Angus Ogilvy (part of Britain’s Royal Family) and an even more distant relative of Scotland’s King of Bannockburn fame, Robert the Bruce, Ogilvy is also related to eminent pro golfer and commentator Judy Rankin. Rankin was elated that Ogilvy, who married her daughter-in-law’s sister, won the tournament.


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