Massacre at Winged Foot Part II

By Mercer BaggsDecember 20, 2006, 5:00 pm
2006 Stories of the Year Editor's Note: is counting down its top 5 stories from the world of golf in 2006 and looking ahead to the five 'Big Questions' on the PGA TOUR in 2007. This is story No. 2 from this past season.
It doesnt take much to change perception. For if it did then it would take more than just a moment in time to alter how we feel about someone.
Prior to the start of the 106th U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson was perceived by many as the greatest golfer on the planet. He was the Masters champion. He was the winner of two consecutive major championships. He was a man of immense talent ' and immense confidence.
Phil Mickelson
Even Phil Mickelson could not believe what happened on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot.
All of that, combined with the fact that Tiger Woods, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, was making his first start in nine weeks, meant Mickelson was easily the man to beat at Winged Foot Golf Club that third week in June.
A Mickelson victory meant history. It meant three straight major victories, something only Woods had accomplished in the last 50 years. It meant talk of a MickelSlam. It meant that he would not just be Tigers chief rival ' he would, for a moment in time, wear the crown.
And thats how long it took for everything to change ' a moment.
For 71 holes, Mickelson scrapped his way around Winged Foot, battling a balky driver and inconsistency from the start. Nevertheless, he was in sole possession of the lead. One shot up on the field; one hole from living out a childhood fantasy.
Mickelson had been dreaming of winning the U.S. Open ever since he was a kid. He had been preparing for this moment ever since he finished his second Masters celebration. He had not only played preparatory rounds at Winged Foot, he had done so in the twilight hours, trying to mimic the conditions he would face should he be in the final group, playing the final hole in the final round, and doing so with a chance to win.
And here he was, just as he wanted to be.
A par seemed inevitable. After all, this was the new Phil Mickelson. The one who knew how to finish off major championships. The one who now received rewards without all the risk.
And when Colin Montgomerie ' oh, poor Colin Montgomerie ' butchered the hole in front of him, Destiny herself seemed ready to crown Mickelson.
It was to be a coronation. It was instead another massacre.
In the 1974 U.S. Open, Hale Irwin won at Winged Foot with a 7-over-par 287 score. Only seven players broke par that entire week. The late Dick Schaap, noted author and sportswriter, dubbed it The Massacre at Winged Foot.
Thirty-two years later, a reprisal seemed to be taking place. Only 11 players broke par over four rounds ' no one lower than 2-under 68. The course, with its newly implemented graduated rough, had ensnared the likes of defending champion Michael Campbell, Retief Goosen and Sergio Garcia. Chewing them up and spitting them out like stale gum before the weekend began.
The most notable player on that list of early exits was Woods. Playing for the first time since the death of his father, Woods could only manage a pair of 76s. It was his first missed cut in a major as a professional.
But it was what took place on Sunday that led to mouths agape, spirits shattered, and perceptions forever changed.
There was Jim Furyk, who missed a 5-foot par putt on the final hole which ultimately would have gotten him into a playoff. There was Padraig Harrington, who bogeyed his final three holes to finish two behind.
Then there was Monty, poor Monty. The man synonymous with major championship failure was tied for the lead while playing the par-4 18th. After successfully navigating a tee shot that didnt really fit his left-to-right ball flight, he found himself in the right side of the fairway, 172 yards from the hole.
With the pin placed on the back right of the green, he was now in perfect position for his power fade. A playoff was all but assured. An outright victory a real possibility.
As Monty was approaching his second shot, USGA officials brought out the trophy, placed it on a table, and let it sit to await its new owner.
Colin Montgomerie
This change of clubs helped cost Colin Montgomerie a chance to win his first major.
It would not be Monty.
One of the games all-time accurate players, Montgomerie came up sinfully short with a 7-iron (he had switched from a 6-iron). Pitching from rough alongside the right side of the green, he could do no better than get his third shot 40 feet from the pin. His par putt missed by 10 feet. His bogey putt missed as well.
There would be no playoff. There would be no major. There would only be what-ifs and coulda-beens.
After a cooling off period, Montgomerie emerged from the players locker room. He met with the media and answered all their questions. He said, I look forward to coming back here again next year and try another U.S. Open and then he paused, before adding, disaster.
Had things played out as expected, Montgomerie would have forever been mocked for his performance on the 18th hole. Instead, that role will forever be reserved for Mickelson.
Just as Monty made everyone forget about the failures of Furyk and Harrington; Mickelson returned the favor for the Scotsman.
Monty experienced a disaster on the final hole. Mickelson experienced a massacre.
Having hit only two fairways all round ' none on the back nine ' Mickelson opted for driver. He not only missed his 12th fairway of the day, he pushed his tee shot so far to the left that it caromed off a corporate hospitality tent.
His next shot hit a tree. But it wasnt the result that raised eyebrows and drew gasps; it was the decision to go for the green instead of pitch out safely back into the fairway.
Like an un-killable horror villain, Old Phil had returned to star in this nightmarish sequel.
Mickelsons second shot went about 25 yards. His third shot sailed left of the green and buried in a bunker. Two swings later, he was finally on the green. One putt thereafter, he was in with a double bogey.
Mickelson finished, as did Montgomerie and Furyk, at 6-over 286. One solitary swing behind Geoff Ogilvy.
Ogilvy was and will forever be the 2006 U.S. Open. He will also be a secondary figure in this tournaments summary, perhaps even tertiary.
Not that the 29-year-old Aussie didnt do his part to earn this title. He holed an 18-foot chip to save par on the 17th hole and then got up-and-down from off the green on the 18th for par ' a par for which Mickelson, Montgomerie and Furyk would have gladly paid double the winners prize of $1.225 million.
But even Ogilvy knows that this championship will forever be remembered not as the one he won, but as the one lost by Mickelson (primarily) and Montgomerie (secondarily).
If I had been watching on TV, I would be thinking Phil lost it. And Monty lost it just as much as Phil did, Ogilvy said at the TOUR Championship. But that's fine. I just feel fortunate there's plenty of guys who have done better than me on the last few holes and lost in major championships, so I just feel fortunate I was one of the lucky ones to have things go my way.
To his credit, Mickelson hung around for the trophy presentation ' the only one of the three runners-up to do so. He applauded Ogilvy and apologized to his New York fans.
Mickelson would not win over the remainder of the season, in fact, he would not even contend for a title. He took off the final three months of the year to recuperate.
Looking like a man sucker-punched by life, he fielded questions that fateful Sunday.
I am still in shock that I did that. I just cant believe that I did that, he said. Im such an idiot.
That final line was plastered on newspaper headlines across the world.
Idiot. Thats what Mickelson was calling himself. And he wasnt getting an argument from fans and press. In just a moments time, he had gone from king of the golf world to lowly court jester, a late-night talk show joke.
It doesnt take much to change perception.
Related Links:
  • Previewing 2006; Reviewing 2007
  • Mickelson Collapses at U.S. Open
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    Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

    Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

    Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

    In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

    Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

    “I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

    Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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    Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

    In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

    Made Cut

    Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

    Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

    “If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    September can’t get here quick enough.

    Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

    There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

    In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

    Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

    On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

    “I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

    The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

    Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

    Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

    The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

    The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

    “My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

    Missed Cut

    Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

    After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

    It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

    Tweet of the week:

    It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

    The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.”