Massacre at Winged Foot Part II

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2006 Stories of the Year Editor's Note: TheGolfChannel.com 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