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Phil in Philly

Phil Mickelson's game was thrown off course at this year's U.S Open.

Jeff Yoder | 2014

Jeff Yoder | 2014

The Waterboy

Jeff Yoder | Sports Co-Editor

This is not a column titled after the 1998 comedy with Adam Sandler. It’s a place to take a break from the action, step over to the sideline and let me refresh you with a cold cup of sports knowledge. Every other week, I’ll give a response to the professional and college sports worlds’ latest controversy.

Phil Mickelson stole the spotlight through the entire weekend of the U.S. Open at the course at Merion in Philadelphia. After flying back to his home in California Wednesday night to watch his eighth-grade daughter’s graduation speech, Phil turned around and flew back to the east coast, arriving at Merion at 5 a.m., just in time for a three-hour nap before his tee time.

Before he even took his first swing, he was all the talk in Philly. Lefty had accumulated five runner-up finishes in U.S. Opens over the course of his career. He had zero wins.

With a 3-under par and his name atop the leaderboard after the first round, the storylines started buzzing. A 2-over on Friday left Phil at 1-under par for the tournament and a share of the lead through two rounds with fellow American Billy Horschel.

An even par round three left Mickelson alone in first (1-under) with a host of experienced golfers chasing him. Steve Stricker and Hunter Mahan were just one shot back at even par and while Justin Rose, Billy Horschel and Luke Donald sat in a tie for fourth at 1-over. It was Lefty’s tournament to lose going into Sunday.

Sunday was not only Father’s Day following Phil’s “dad of the year” heroics after he flew coast to coast and back in less than 24 hours for his daughter. Sunday was also Phil’s 43rd birthday. The stars were aligned. Everyone watching, including the field, assumed it was finally time for Phil to break the curse.

Phil found par on back-to-back holes to start his fourth round on Sunday in the final group; then the curse came to life.  A set of double-bogeys on Hole 3 and Hole 5 split with a birdie on Hole 4 brought Phil down from the top of the leaderboard. He was then at 2-over par for the tournament where he would stay through the rest of the front nine.

With the pressure of another runner-up finish rising, Phil opened the back nine with an eagle chip in on Hole 10 to jump back to even par and a solo spot in the driver’s seat. Mahan and Rose were 1-over while Horschel, Donald and Stricker faded like a pair of fashionable jeans.

Mickelson went on par Holes 11 and 12 before the tough finish down the stretch that buried golfer after golfer on Sunday. Suffering bogeys on 13 and 15 took the air out of Phil now that he had surrendered his lead to England’s Justin Rose and had to play catch up. An Englishman hadn’t won the U.S. Open in 43 years. Rose was at even par through 15 holes but bogeyed 16 to fall to 1-over by the time he reached the clubhouse.

The chants of “U-S-A” followed Phil down the tail end of the back nine. “Happy birthday Lefty” and feelings of belief in another Mickelson miracle murmured through the gallery on every hole.

A hole behind, Phil played Holes 16 and 17 knowing he needed one birdie to force a playoff. He left both birdie opportunities short and was left with one last shot on 18. Lying in the fairway after a rough start to the hole, Mickelson needed a chip in for birdie. Merion was silent as the last golfer of the day attempted to conjure up some magic.

Phil’s chip skidded past the hole about a foot to the right and a bogey on 18 left Lefty finishing runner-up for the sixth time in a U.S. Open. His birthday, father’s day and the fact that it happened again left the entire country empathizing alongside him.

 

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