In a wet and dreary U.S. Open that didn't end until Monday, Lucas Glover held off the back-nine charges of Phil Mickelson and David Duval -- and proved his mettle to his toughest critic: himself
It was a U.S. Open, all right, even if everything turned out all wrong, a lament directed not at the man who won the tournament, Mother Nature or the meteorologists who seemed to whiff every forecast detailing her sour mood. For all the ankle-deep mud and marshmallow greens, for all the foul-weathered mystery and dubious history, America's 109th national championship was still ready, willing and waiting to be rescued.
A day late, perhaps, but not a dime short in the drama department. Two remarkable storylines, both of which emerged swiftly and out of nowhere, promised an oversize emotional climax on an overcast Monday afternoon. If par was made to be broken, however, promises are too -- and so it happened that a pair of the warmest and fuzziest plots in golf's modern era went cold less than 15 minutes apart on Bethpage Black's par-3 17th.
Make no mistake: Lucas Glover earned it. His four-under 276 led to a two-stroke victory that was as hard-fought as it was huge, his final-round 73 flawed early but steadier than anyone else's down the stretch. His only birdie of the day proved to be the game-winner: a perfect drive at the par-4 16th, then an 8-iron from 172 yards that stopped four feet left of the hole. If you're looking for more highlights, try a hair salon.
If you're looking for tragic endings, have a seat. Golf's short list of unforgettable performances does not leave much room for debate -- Jack Nicklaus' 1986 Masters triumph has been awarded an exemption in perpetuity, as has Tiger Woods' landmark pro debut at the same tournament 11 years later. Brilliance never gets old, but to overcome a personal or physical setback, advanced age or extreme odds en route to winning a major championship requires more than four days of superb golf.
You need a conflict, a real-life predicament, a pound of hope, a ton of guts and an audience to validate the climb. As it turned out, this U.S. Open had two hardship cases and a pile of unanswered what-ifs. "Certainly I'm disappointed, but now that it's over, I've got more important things going on, and ... oh well," is how Phil Mickelson characterized his fifth career runner-up finish at a U.S. Open. "I think this one is more in perspective for me. I feel different this time."
Irony is everywhere if you look hard enough. As Mickelson pondered another Big One That Got Away, the two late bogeys at the 69th and 71st holes that cost him a share of the lead, and a life turned upside-down by wife Amy's breast cancer diagnosis, David Duval took off his Oakley sunglasses and placed them over the eyes of his daughter Sienna, who turns 2 in August. Sometimes, leader boards almost seem irrelevant.
"I'm happy with how I played but extremely disappointed with the outcome," Duval said of his first top-10 finish since October 2002. "There was no question in my mind, I was going to win the golf tournament." Birdies at the 14th, 15th and 16th had vaulted Duval into a tie with Glover and Mickelson, if only for a few minutes, or until Glover stuck his approach at the 16th and Mickelson missed a six-footer for par one hole ahead.
After four long days of hurry up and wait, a beleaguered odyssey full of raindrops and oddities, it became almost scary to think what might happen next. Ricky Barnes, the strapping prodigy turned Nationwide Tour refugee, had begun his final round late Sunday evening leading the U.S. Open by one shot over Glover, having posted the lowest 36-hole start at a U.S. Open (eight-under 132) the previous day. Monday's front-nine 40 sent Barnes packing, at least temporarily, but who saw David Duval?
Mickelson will always be New York's favorite son, a superstar whose willingness to connect with the vocal locals earns him an abundance of love in return. They expect him to contend, and he always seems to oblige. Duval, on the other hand, showed up 882nd in the World Ranking, a fascinating stat if only to verify the ranking goes that deep. He had claimed a spot in the field after a surprisingly successful sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio.
Why does he keep grinding? "I love this tournament," Duval said as he cleaned out his locker while 4-year-old son Brayden examined the contents of his dad's wallet. "Daddy, you've got a twenty in here!" said Brayden. Duval is heavier and happier than a decade ago when he unseated Woods as the world's best player, but the body language is the same and for one week at least, so was the ball-striking. "I know it sounds silly," said Duval, now 142nd in the latest ranking, "but I can really focus when I have to aim at certain spots on the greens and hit certain types of shots."