Phil Unquestionably Fan Favorite

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SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- The fan was busy cheering Phil Mickelson, though not too busy to make his point. Behind the ropes off the fourth fairway, he lectured a passing writer.
 
'We love Phil,' he said. 'Have you figured that out yet?'
 
Phil MickelsonDuh. Yeah.
 
The coronation of Mickelson as the nation's golf champion will have to wait for another day, thanks to another Phil moment on the 17th green.
 
But take a look at the lovefest that surrounded him Sunday afternoon, and you'll see Retief Goosen wasn't the only champion on this day.
 
Mickelson left Shinnecock Hills broken-hearted after allowing the U.S. Open to slip from his grasp. So did 35,000 fans, who screamed in delight with every move he made.
 
They wished him a happy Father's Day, and a happy birthday. They chanted his name and squealed when he acknowledged them with a smile.

If Mickelson had begun crying, they would have bawled with him when he three-putted from 5 feet on the 71st hole to blow the tournament.
 
America sometimes loves its losers more than its winners. And, Masters win or not, there's no more loveable loser than Phil Mickelson.
 
He's everybody's brother, son or father, this slightly paunchy 34-year-old with a goofy grin pasted on his face and his emotions laid bare on his sleeve.
 
When he wins, people want to share it with him. When he loses, they want to feel his pain.
 
'I really thought it was going to be my day,' Mickelson said.
 
So did the fans who did their best to will Mickelson on to his second straight major championship. From the first hole on, when the crowd on one side of the fairway chanted 'Let's go, Phil' only to be joined by fans on the other side, they begged for him to win.
 
Goosen was in the group just behind, but he might as well have been back home in South Africa. Fans applauded politely as he stoically made his way around the course, but they opened their hearts for Mickelson.
 
'Everybody's with you, Phil. Everybody's with you, baby,' one shouted.
 
'He's a great guy. He really is,' another said.
 
Tiger Woods got cheers like this when he was winning major after major, but not for the same reasons. Woods rarely signs autographs and almost never interacts with anyone in the crowd, but there was no dispute about his greatness.
 
Mickelson gets them because fans feel as if they have a personal stake in the outcome every time he tees the ball up.
 
'It's very flattering,' Mickelson said. 'I don't know what to say. People have been terrific to me and my family.'
 
It was only a few days before the Open when Mickelson talked about how he wants to be seen on the golf course. He called Arnold Palmer his role model and said he tries to go out of his way to sign autographs and make fans feel good.
 
It sounded silly at the time, almost condescending.
 
But that was before seeing Mickelson signing in the gloomy evening fog after Thursday's aborted first round. That was before watching autograph hounds break into a full run to get his attention as he strode larger than life from the course.
 
And that was before watching 35,000 people cheer seemingly as one on Sunday, from the first tee to the 18th green.
 
Arnie built an army and helped turn golf into what it is today.
 
Maybe you can call this Phil's Platoon.
 
They were in top form on the seventh hole Sunday, where for most of the day the crowd delighted in seeing well struck shots bounce over the green or trickle into greenside bunkers.
 
All day long, they booed the workers who came out to water the green occasionally between groups, not wanting to make things any easier for the players. When Mickelson stood on the tee, though, the chant echoing from the grandstands surrounding the green was just the opposite.
 
'Water, water, water,' they pleaded, wanting to give their hero a better chance.
 
While Mickelson waited, he plopped himself into a folding chair on the tee, crossed his legs and acted like he was settling in to watch some golf himself. You half expected Amy and the kids to come out and have a picnic with him.
 
Mickelson hit it into the bunker, then almost holed his second shot as the crowd went delirious. Watching back on the tee was Goosen, who proceeded to hit one of the best shots of the day within 15 feet of the hole.
 
The crowd clapped politely, then stood and roared as Mickelson teed off on the next hole.
 
Three times now, Mickelson has come in second in the U.S. Open. But none of them could be more agonizing than losing this one after leading by a shot going to the 17th tee.
 
'It's just as disappointing (to lose) as it was thrilling to win the Masters,' Mickelson said.
 
Still, they can never take away the green jacket Mickelson won just two months ago at Augusta National. He's overcome the embarrassment of being the best player never to win a major.
 
The golf purists will say he has to win more, though, and they're right. Great players win more than one major, because that's what makes them great.
 
On Sunday, though, it really didn't matter to the fans who yelled encouragement or tried to catch Mickelson's eye.
 
Win or lose, for 18 holes they had a piece of Phil.
 
And for them that was good enough.
 
Related links:
  • Leaderboard - U.S. Open
  • U.S. Open Photo Gallery
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  • Full Coverage - U.S. Open
     
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