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Ending Played Out As It Usually Does

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By Thomas Boswell
Tuesday, June 23, 2009

FARMINGDALE, N.Y

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At the closing ceremony of the U.S. Open on Monday at Bethpage Black, three men, all tied for second place, looked at one silver medal sitting in front of them. Phil Mickelson, David Duval and Ricky Barnes glanced at each other, then at the one medal.

"One of you guys choose it. Whoever is oldest out of you two," said Barnes, a virtual unknown, deferring to Duval, No. 1 in the world long ago, and Mickelson, the most star-crossed and bedeviled golfer in the annals of America's national championship.

"I got four," said Mickelson. "I'm plenty good."

Actually, he's not. The only thing worse than four silver medals in the Open is five. At some point, they become a gray reminder of defeat, not a shining achievement. For Phil, that juncture passed long ago. This was supposed to be his day of gold. This was the day he seemed destined to take an enormous trophy to the bedside of his wife, Amy, just as she had requested, as she gets ready to face treatment for her breast cancer.

Instead, golf happened. A day that seemed preordained, a New York fairy tale, with unknown leaders collapsing and Mickelson charging into a tie for the lead, thanks to a lucky break in the rough at the 10th hole and an eagle on the 13th hole, simply turned into a dismal anticlimactic rerun. At the 15th and 17th holes, Mickelson missed putts of four and six feet for bogeys and fell out of the lead. He left without a trophy, but with a gallant dignity and tens of thousands of hard-to-win New York hearts as his prize.

"I fought back in it. With two birdies [at the ninth and 12th holes] and that eagle, I put myself in great position to close it out," said Mickelson, who caught the folding leaders, Lucas Glover and Barnes, with so many holes left that his victory seemed almost assured. "But unfortunately, I didn't finish it out.

"Certainly, I'm disappointed, but now that it's over, I've got more important things going on and, oh, well," said Mickelson, so often distraught in defeat -- once even calling himself "such an idiot." This time, he seemed thoughtful, ready for a family vacation before Amy's treatment begins. Perhaps good luck now seems too precious a thing to waste on a golf tournament.

"We're going to get started here in about 10 days," Mickelson said. "Once we get going it might be a little bit easier. The wait has been difficult. I don't know where to go with that. There's just some more important things going on."

Don't worry, Phil. That seems about right. This week, every competitor ended up utterly exhausted. Glover was so wrung out on the 72nd green that he barely raised his hand or changed expression in victory. "With all the rain delays and getting up at 5 a.m., it's been a long, tough week," Glover said. "I don't know if I had enough energy left to do anything crazy. I don't think I could have thought up a good celebration."

This Open may not have generated the consensus winner. But it provided a slice of seldom-surpassed drama and surprise when it suddenly swung from a tie between Mickelson, Glover and Duval at 3 under to a clear two-shot Glover lead with just one hole to play.


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