Backspin Major Nerves and Disappointment
- By Golf Channel Digital
- Jun 18, 2007 12:00 PM ET
AN ANGEL'S DEVILISH GRIN: Angel Cabrera stumbled home Sunday but a par at the last proved to be enough to crown him U.S. Open champion. The Argentine, who began the final round four shots back of Aaron Baddeley, took a three-shot lead with three holes to play and then promptly bogeyed 16 and 17. Cabrera composed himself, however, with a massive drive on 18 and a two-putt par. That was the difference as Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk couldn't pass him.
Cabrera was as visibly shaky as any player you will ever see coming down the stretch of a major championship. He was tighter than Tiger's red shirt. He smoked cigarettes, paced feverishly and almost wasted his hard-fought advantage -- but he didn't. That nervous smile he displayed on the final few holes turned to one of pure joy when Woods missed his birdie effort on the final hole of the championship. Cabrera now joins Roberto De Vicenzo, who won the the 1967 British Open at Hoylake, as their country's only major championship winners on the regular tour.
Though both were seen smiling during the trophy presentation, this certainly was a bitter pill to swallow for two of the world's best. As well as a little déjà vu. Furyk's gaff on the 17th led to a second straight runner-up showing at the U.S. Open - both times finishing at 6 over par and one shot out of a playoff. As for Tiger, he again played in the last group on Sunday - like he did at the Masters - and once again failed to come from behind to win the title. He's a spectacular 12-for-12 with at least a share of the lead when entering the final round of a major championship, but now falls to 0-29 when trailing after 54.
TALE OF TWO ROUNDS: Vaunted Oakmont was being labeled by none other than NBC’s Johnny Miller as the ‘toughest course in the world’ as the players made their way to the first tee box on Thursday. And first- and second-round scores were, for the most part, backing up Miller’s assertions. But on Friday, England’s Paul Casey fashioned a near flawless 4-under 66 that had fellow players fawning over the accomplishment, and comparisons to Miller’s closing 63 in 1973 began to become part of the conversation.
Casey’s 66 and Miller’s 63 are similar in a few ways. Both were nearly 11 strokes lower than the field average for their respective days. Both men hit 13 of 14 fairways. And both men only made one bogey. But there are few glaring differences. Miller’s 63 came on a softer, more receptive course. But Miller’s 63 also included 18 of 18 greens hit in regulation – and it occurred on a Sunday and won him the tournament. Game, set and match Miller.
LEAVING ON EMPTY: Phil Mickelson entered this year’s championship with a lot of uncertainty and plenty of questions, thanks mainly to a wrist injury he incurred during a practice round a few weeks prior at Oakmont. He left with few answers and even more U.S. Open frustration. He also left on Friday. Mickelson shot rounds of 74-77 to miss out on the weekend by a stroke when Cabrera birdied his final hole in Round 2 to push the cut line to 10 over. It was the first time since 1999 that Mickelson had missed the cut in a major championship.
Lefty looked in decent shape after his opening 4-over performance. But a stretch of bad golf on Friday – playing holes 7-10 in 6 over – cost him any chance to atone for last year’s disaster. It may, however, have been a good thing, as Mickelson didn’t have to subject his injured wrist to the venue’s trying conditions. Mickelson's exit was not only premature, but it left a bad taste in many mouth’s as some felt Phil was whining about the difficultly of the course. Either way, he has five weeks to get himself straightened out – physically and mentally – before the Open Championship, which just happens to take place at Carnoustie, site of Mickelson’s previous major missed cut.
FATHER’S DAY ON THE COUCH: This week was billed by some at the ultimate battle: Golf’s best players vs. Golf’s best course. Unfortunately for some, Oakmont was the clear winner. Joining Mickelson with the weekend off were Colin Montgomerie, Adam Scott, Retief Goosen, Henrik Stenson, Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington, Davis Love III and Sergio Garcia.
If you’ll notice, that group contains the majority of the principals in last year’s dramatic finish at Winged Foot. Mickelson, Monty and Harrington all had chances to win and failed to do so. That opportunity was not extended to them this year; though, that might not be the worst thing considering what Furyk is feeling right now. Garcia is now 0-for-32 as a professional in major championships and has missed the cut in each of the first two this season. He seems to have developed a distaste for pre-tournament press conferences at majors. If he keeps playing like this, he won’t have to worry about being invited to any more.
NOT SUITABLE FOR THE CHILDREN: Geoff Ogilvy returned to the U.S. Open as its defending champion, and as a newly minted 30-year-old. With his birthday coming last Monday, that meant not a single player in the field under the age of 30 had a major championship to his credit. It was the first time since 1991 that such an anomaly was true.
The way the day began, it looked promising that a 20something could possibly walk away with victory. Paul Casey, 27; Aaron Baddeley, 26; and Justin Rose, 26, all started the final round in the last three groups of the day. And all three imploded - early. Combined, they shot a total of 34 over. Remember, Miller was 26 when he won here back in '73. But the fact is, the game has since changed. Youth is no longer served. The game and its major champions are now more like fine wines - they get better with age.
EURO FAMINE: The 1999 British Open at Carnoustie will forever be known as Jean Van de Velde’s epic collapse. It is also is becoming increasingly famous for being the last time a European won a major championship. Paul Lawrie’s playoff victory was the last in what has now has become an eight-year drought.
Amazingly, Ireland's Great Potato Famine in the mid-1800s was about half as long as this major-less run. Swede Niclas Fasth was the low European this past week, finishing fourth. Perhaps the drought will end in about a month when the Open Championship is once again contested at Carnoustie. If so, the site may well become the permanent home of the season's third major.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: If you were paying attention closely, you would have noticed that the man on the bag for Cabrera was none other than Eddie Gardino, he of 'Big Break' fame; For the fourth straight year, an international-born player won the U.S. Open; 11 amateurs made the Oakmont field, but none made the cut; the 484-yard, par-4 18th played as the hardest hole of the week at 4.602; the 288-yard, par-3 eighth was the fifth hardest at 3.452; the 358-yard, par-4 14th was the easiet at 4.053; Baddeley led the field in putting entering the final round, then took 34 putts on Sunday; Fasth led the field in putting for the week (1.58); Woods led the field in G.I.R (68%); Fred Funk (T30) led the field in fairways hit (73%); Cabrera was second to George McNeill (63rd) in driving distance (McNeill averaged 311.4 yards); former U.S. Ryder Cup member Chris Riley won on the Nationwide Tour, beating reigning NCAA champion Jamie Lovemark in a playoff; Ashleigh Simon, 18, became the youngest ever professional winner on the Ladies European; Johnny Miller shot 63 in the final round of the 1973 U.S. Open to win at Oakmont.
Although quite a player himself, Gardino has made a fine career as a caddie, most notably looping for Sergio Garcia in the 2002 Ryder Cup, and now a major champion in Cabrera; This is the first time in U.S. Open history that an American hasn't won the championship in four years; it's rare that the final hole on the course is also the toughest; for all the complaining about the eighth hole, which became the first-ever 300-yard par-3 in a major on Sunday, the players seemed to handle it OK; Cabrera hit 32 percent of his fairways, 61 percent of his greens in regulation, and averaged 32 putts per round over the weekend -- and won; congrats to Riley -- maybe this will awaken his slumbering career; Simon, making just her fourth start as a pro, may well be someone to watch in future years should she compete regularly on the LPGA Tour; Miller shot 63 in '73? Wow, somebody should have mentioned that this past week.
Contributions from writers and editors on the Golf Channel Digital team.
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