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‘I Think This Was My Best Chance’

ARDMORE, PENNSYLVANIA | This one was going to be different. This time, on his 43rd birthday, on Father’s Day, on a course made for legends, Phil Mickelson finally was going to win the U.S. Open. When he holed that 75-yard wedge shot on Merion’s short 10th hole for an eagle and raised his arms like Ali after a knockout, Mickelson and the moment had finally arrived together on a U.S. Open Sunday. He had flipped the leaderboard, gone from behind to ahead with one beautiful swing, and there in the midst of all the misery Merion had delivered, Mickelson had found its sweet spot. The noise thundered. The ground seemed to shudder. The chills were epidemic. But it didn’t last. It never does for Mickelson, not when it’s the U.S. Open. “I think this was my best chance,” Mickelson said, the emotion practically draining from his face as he talked half an hour after he finished. Because it was Mickelson, there was a heightened sense of anticipation Sunday at Merion. His U.S. Open history was as familiar to the world watching as his smile. It felt like his time. When he walked onto the practice range more than an hour before his 3:20 p.m. tee time, Mickelson was serenaded with Happy Birthday from the fans in the bleachers. At seemingly every hole, fans offered a variation of the same theme. “I heard Happy Birthday probably 18 times today,” Hunter Mahan, Mickelson’s playing partner, said. “Hopefully, I won’t wake up screaming Happy Birthday. But it was fun.” Until the end. The Open isn’t won on emotion. It’s won with execution and persistence, the way Justin Rose did it Sunday when he shot even-par 70 on a course set up to destroy. Across four days, Rose made 15 birdies, 16 bogeys and no great errors. Mickelson made too many mistakes. He missed too many putts. He let too many chances get away. He wasn’t the only one. Jason Day bogeyed two of the last five holes to finish tied with Mickelson, two behind Rose. Mahan played the last four 4-over par when four pars would have him in a playoff today. Luke Donald shot 42 on the front side. So did Charl Schwartzel. Steve Stricker triple-bogeyed the par-5 second with two balls out of bounds including a shank as ugly as Billy Horschel’s octopus pants. For a time, the national championship tournament looked like a member-guest. Had it ended differently, Mickelson’s eagle at the 10th would echo through generations as one of the spectacular shots in major championship history. Instead, it’s not even the shot Mickelson will think of when he remembers Merion. He’ll think of the two early doubles he made at the third and fifth holes and he’ll think about the poor wedge shots he hit at the 13th and 15th holes that led to the two bogeys from which he couldn’t recover. At the third (an unnecessarily long 266-yard, par-3 into the wind to a hilltop green) and the sloping fifth, Mickelson threeputted for double bogey, compounding his mistakes, a cardinal sin in U.S. Opens. Still, he was right there. At Nos. 6, 8 and 9 he watched birdie putts miss when he thought he’d made them. The eagle at 10 vaulted him to a one-stroke lead but Rose answered with birdies at 12 and 13 to regain the advantage. The killer came at the 115-yard par-3 13th, statistically the easiest hole in the past 32 U.S. Opens – since the championship was last at Merion in 1981. Mickelson bogeyed it twice, including Sunday when he tried to draw a pitching wedge and blew it over the green, guilty of hitting too much club.


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