Plenty Have Won the 71-Hole Open

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Oh, the anatomy of a loss, a last-hole debacle in a major golf championship
 
Phil Mickelson will remember this one vividly when he is 90. The vision of a tree standing between him and the green, then the sight of his ball lying plugged in a bunker. Colin Montgomerie will remember it, too. Unfortunately, they will go down in history with a couple of other great players ' Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer.
 
More on that pair in a moment. But first, about 2006, and Montgomerie making double from the fairway on the 72nd hole; and then, even more excruciating, Mickelson scoring the same when a par would have won it, a bogey would have given him a playoff.
 
Dottie Pepper gently reminded everyone a couple of hours after the carnage ended what everyone should probably have realized when he came to the 18th - that Mickelson was unbelievably fortunate to have been in that position in the first place. If he had somehow weaseled out a par on the final hole and won, THAT would have been the upset, considering the way he had slashed the ball around on closing day. Geoff Ogilvy was the deserving winner considering the way he played the last couple of holes, and a Mickelson victory would have been an upset.
 
That, however, will be the subject for debate for many years to come. For now, hear what Mickelson said about the final hole:
 
Firstly, he chose driver for his tee shot because he thought he could get it in the fairway with his bread and butter shot, a baby carve slice on 18. He didnt carry a 3-wood. He did have a 4-wood, but I felt like if I hit 4-wood and missed the fairway, I'd be too far back to do any good, to be able to chase one down there (to the green). Mickelson had, in effect, lost confidence that he could hit the sliver of a fairway with any club.
 
The fairways, remember, were baked out and extremely hard and fast ' Mickelson had tried to hit a 4-iron off the tee on No. 15, had hit what he described as the perfect shot, and watched it bound into the rough. Factoring in all this information, he decided to go with the driver, even though he knew that it had been uncontrollable all day. He felt that his best chance at par, though, was his bread and butter shot. And he decided if he was going to miss, at least he would miss it further down the fairway than if he had hit the 4-wood.
 
He knew immediately, of course, that he had overcut the drive, and fortunately it bounced off the hospitality tent to leave him a shot back to the fairway. Heres the point where I really fault him, not so much in his club selection off the tee.
 
He may have been suckered into going for the green from his distance of 201 yards because the ball was sitting up so nicely. I had a good lie, he said. I had to hit a big carving slice around the tree and overcut it, just like I overcut the tee shot and some of the other shots.
 
It didnt work, his shot plunking the tree. Visibly shaken now, he played his third shot from just 25 yards ahead. Forget it ' it would have taken Houdini himself to scrape out something resembling a bogey at this point. Lets see ' off the tent, off a tree, then plugging in the bunker, in the rough across the green, finally a chip and a putt ' six strokes and bye-bye U.S. Open.
 
Montgomerie did his bit of unpleasantry from 172 yards away, after he had already achieved the difficult ' placing the tee shot in the middle. After wavering back and forth, however, he chose a 7-iron instead of a 6, and the shot came up way short. I thought adrenaline would kick in, he said. I usually hit the ball ten yards further in that circumstance. I caught it slightly heavy and it went slightly right. It was a poor shot, no question about that.
 
Palmer is acutely aware of the difficulties ' he led the 1966 U.S. Open by seven strokes with only nine holes remaining. With such an imposing lead, Arnold let his thoughts drift to Ben Hogan and the Open record of 276. And he wanted to set the record there in the San Francisco bay area where his good friend lived ' Ed Douglas, who was an executive with Pennzoil.
 
It, of course, was a huge mistake ' understandable since he had such an overwhelming lead, but a mistake nonetheless. Billy Casper was playing strictly for second place, even admitted same to Palmer on the 10th tee. And with only four holes to play, Arnold still was five shots ahead.
 
Then it happened. Palmer, the record still playing in his mind, tried to hit the perfect shot on the par-3 15th instead of the safe shot. He went straight for a pin cut near a bunker, missed, and made another bogey, while Casper was running in a long putt for birdie. And on 16, Palmer played his driver on the par-5 when a 1-iron would have served him better. The result ' he ended up in the rough and made another bogey, while Casper made another birdie.
 
One shot was all that separated the two now, and when Palmer bogeyed the 17th, the advantage was completely gone. Now, the two DID go into a Monday playoff, but Casper won that by four strokes.
 
Snead, though, had only a par-5 left and needed just a par to win the U.S. Open in 1939. Like Mickelson, a bogey would still have gotten him into a playoff.
 
Alas, it never happened. Snead snap-hooked his drive, topped his second into a bunker 100 yards from of the green, couldnt get out of the bunker with his third, then blasted the ball into a greenside bunker with his fourth.
 
Now, needing to get up-and-down to get into a playoff with three others, he got onto the green but 30 feet away. He missed the 30-footer (knocking him out of a playoff), then missed a three-foot comeback putt. It took him eight strokes to finish the hole, and he never did win a U.S. Open.
 
Those are pretty good names to cough up the U.S. Open when they had it practically gift-wrapped. But that wont sooth the feelings of Phil Mickelson ' just like it never did sooth the feelings of Palmer or Snead. There are an awfully lot of people who have won the 71-hole U.S. Open. But unfortunately they have to play one more to make it an official win. Hole No. 72 will live forever in Phil and Montys minds.
 
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