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Phil, Donald, Schwartzel crash and burn Sunday

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ARDMORE, Pa. – Well, that wasn’t quite what we expected.

Phil Mickelson bogeyed three of the last six holes to finish two shots behind winner Justin Rose.

Charl Schwartzel, one of the best ball-strikers in the game, birdied the first hole to tie the lead, then crashed to a 78 at Merion.

Luke Donald, the former world No. 1, went out in 42 – the same score shot by the supposedly steady Steve Stricker, who hit two shots out of bounds (including a shanked long iron) on the second hole to sink his chances.

Hunter Mahan shot 75. Billy Horschel and Rickie Fowler were only a shot better.

Indeed, many all of the game’s stars crashed and burned Sunday at U.S. Open.

“I think this was my best chance,” Mickelson said. “This one’s probably the toughest for me, because at 43 and coming so close five times, it would have changed the way I look at this tournament altogether and the way I would have looked at my record. Except I just keep feeling heartbreak.”

Donald knows the feeling. He’s still tagged with the title of one of the best players who have yet to win a major. That it nearly came to an end this week at the Open was surprising, given his history at the year’s second major (no top 10s in nine career starts). But his bid ended early, with a run of bogey-bogey-bogey-double on Nos. 3-6.

“I come away with some positive feelings,” Donald said. “I got in position in a U.S. Open; I haven’t really done that in my career. So there are definitely positives. I know what I need to work on. I need to continue to get better in my ball-striking and control that trajectory and that line.”

Stricker, at 46 and still majorless, cut back his schedule this season in an effort to spend more time with his family. It hasn’t seemed to affect his game at all, as his T-8 finish at the Open was his fifth top 10 in nine starts this season. What’s more, it was his fifth top 25 in his last six majors.

“I felt more comfortable than I have in previous times I’ve been in contention in majors. So that’s a good sign,” he said. “I’m running out of years, though. It’s not getting any easier as I get older.”

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