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Memories made at "Revelations"

Memories were all that lingered from behind the 18th green at Winged Foot on the morning after a debacle that brought ridicule to Phil Mickelson, a major setback to Colin Montgomerie and a U.S. Open title to Geoff Ogilvy.

Empty bleachers on both sides gave it the feel of a ghost town.

The silence was broken by the occasional clanging of a hammer against metal poles as workers dismantled the scoreboard. And while the magnet letters that spelled out the victims' names had already been removed, evidence remained in the numbers that stretched across the final few holes. It wasn't hard to figure out whose scores they were.

With an unobstructed view down the fairway, you could easily retrace the blunders.

There was Montgomerie in the fairway, choosing a 7-iron instead of a 6-iron from 172 yards to allow for adrenaline. In his 15 years of pursuing a major championship, he never had a better chance than this. He was tied for the lead, needing only to find the middle of the green to catch a slope that would feed the ball about 15 feet from the hole.

"What kind of shot was that?" Monty said moments after he made contact.

To stand in the mangled grass short and right of the 18th green is to appreciate what must have been going through Monty's mind. Only the top flag can be seen over the mound, and you're lucky to see the top half of the ball when it sits at the bottom of 6-inch rough.

It was more difficult to picture where Mickelson was because of the trees that separate the rough from the corporate tent. But from behind the green, you can imagine thousands of fans in the grandstands and lining both sides of the fairway, all of them so full of love for him that they eagerly awaited the sight of a white pellet appearing out of nowhere, carving toward the green.

If they were too far away to hear the ball being struck, they surely heard the groan from those standing next to the tree it hit.

To see Mickelson walk toward the bunker and find his ball plugged in the sand like a poached egg was to see Jan Van de Velde with his pants rolled up to his knees as he stood in Barry Burn at Carnoustie, or to see Greg Norman walking like a zombie across Hogan's Bridge on the 12th hole at Augusta National after hitting into Rae's Creek.

It was simply hopeless.

"I just can't believe I did that," Mickelson said.

He said that five times after his double bogey, and everyone believed him.

Reality sets in when you walk through the clubhouse at Winged Foot, down a hallway lined with glass cases that hold newspaper clippings, programs, trophies and framed pictures of the U.S. Open champions who survived the West Course.

Bobby Jones. Billy Casper. Hale Irwin. Fuzzy Zoeller.

Geoff Ogilvy?

Mickelson's picture should be next to those champions, right?

That's what this U.S. Open was all about. He was going for his third straight major, the third leg of the career Grand Slam, and there was nothing Tiger Woods could do about it.

Mickelson had studied every nook and cranny of Winged Foot in nearly a dozen practice sessions before the tournament.

Course architect A.W. Tillinghast once described the holes as men -- all similar from the neck down, the greens "showing the same varying characters as human faces." Lefty knew them so well he could have picked them out of a police lineup from 200 feet away with a patch over one eye.

"I'm such an idiot," Mickelson said, which became tabloid headlines the next morning.

Until he wins another major, Mickelson can only hope he is not linked with those words, the way Roberto De Vicenzo became known for saying, "What a stupid I am," when he signed for the wrong score in the 1968 Masters.

It doesn't matter whether it was a bad decision or bad execution that led to Mickelson's double bogey. He will be lampooned for an aggressive play that cost him a U.S. Open and disappointed his beloved New York fans again. They thought they were watching the 1927 Yankees and got saddled with the 1962 Mets.

Jim Furyk also goofed. He studied his 5-foot par putt from one side, with caddie Mike Cowan eyeballing it from the other. Funny, but Furyk said so eloquently at the start of the week that no matter how well Winged Foot suited his eye, he still had to hit the shots.

He missed the most important one of all.

The name for the 18th hole is "Revelations," and it was every bit of that. But the demise of Mickelson and Montgomerie also stained the legend of the final hole at Winged Foot.

This is where Bobby Jones holed what many consider the most pressure-packed putt in U.S. Open history, a 12-footer that broke two ways, paused on the lip and fell for par. That spared him an unlikely collapse in 1929, and he hammered Al Espinoza in the playoff.

Hale Irwin survived the "Massacre at Winged Foot" in 1974 when he won at 7-over 287, but the shot that clinched his first U.S. Open title was a 2-iron into the 18th green in the final round. Greg Norman got into a playoff by holing a 40-foot par putt in 1984. And any mention of Winged Foot and the 18th green is sure to include the rainbow after Davis Love III won the '97 PGA Championship.

Mickelson and Monty brought storm clouds on a sunny afternoon.

Ogilvy played the kind of golf that wins a U.S. Open, and he will be heard from again in the majors. He hit the best shots on the 18th hole, getting a bad break when his tee shot rolled into a divot, making good with a 6-foot par putt that made him a champion.

Eventually, Ogilvy will get his due, along with a framed picture in the clubhouse.

June 21, 2006

 




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