- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

MAMARONECK, N.Y. — Dick Schaap dubbed the 1974 U.S. Open the “Massacre at Winged Foot.” Perhaps what transpired yesterday on the 7,264-yard, par-70 layout should forever be remembered as the Mamaroneck Meltdown.

On a day hot enough to make a statue sweat, a handful of the world’s best golfers completely wilted down the stretch, gifting the 106th U.S. Open title to 29-year-old Australian Geoff Ogilvy.

Not since the 1999 British Open debacle at Carnoustie has the golf world witnessed such a spectacular final-hole flameout. And that was a solo suicide, with Frenchman Jean Van de Velde playing the tragic hero. This was a demolition derby, a stunning multiple-player exercise in incompetence broken into several progressively more masochistic acts.

“I never thought that I was going to get away with [the championship] like that,” said Ogilvy, the bewildered winner at 5 over (285), ahead of, in order of cosmic collapse, Padraig Harrington (287), Jim Furyk (286), Colin Montgomerie (286) and Phil Mickelson (286). “I was the beneficiary of a little charity.”

The final and most memorable donor, of course, was Mickelson, who watched his historic bid for a third consecutive major victory disappear with a 72nd-hole double bogey he’s likely to spend the rest of his life reliving in REM cycles. That is, if he ever sleeps again.

Needing just a par on Winged Foot’s 450-yard, dogleg left final hole to advance to next month’s British Open in quest of the Mickelslam, Lefty certainly lived up to his nickname on the final teebox. The 36-year-old Mickelson, who fought a nasty hook all day en route to hitting just two fairways, decided to try to hit his Augusta special (a flare, safety fade) off the final tee. What resulted was more like a boomerang slice that might have returned to hit him in the rump had the Champions Pavilion 60 yards left of the fairway not gotten in the way.

Fortunately for Mickelson, who claimed a 4-wood off the tee would have left him too long a second shot, his wayward drive ricocheted off the tented top of the building and came to rest in an area of the rough that had been trampled into near-hardpan by his adoring galleries. Channeling Old Phil — the gambling, all-or-nothing, 0-for-46 in the majors Phil — and having executed a similarly challenging recovery for par from such position on the preceding hole, Mickelson tried to skirt the trees and reach the green from 201 yards with a sweeping sliced 3-iron.

Once again, he over-cut the shot, hitting the trees just 25 yards in front of him and leaving him much the same atrocious angle to the green.

He then over-cut his third shot, which plugged in the left, back, greenside bunker. He shoveled his fourth across the green, chipped 12 feet past the hole and holed the putt for a reality-numbing double.

“I’m still in shock that I did that. I’m such an idiot,” said a candid Mickelson after earning his fourth second place in the Open since 1999. “I just can’t believe I couldn’t par the last hole … This one hurts more than any tournament because I had it won.

“I think the biggest reason why this is so disappointing is that this is a tournament that I dreamt of winning as a kid. I spent countless hours practicing, dreaming of winning this tournament, came out here weeks and months in advance to get ready and had it right there in my hand, man. It was right there, and I let it go. I just cannot believe I did that.”

The most amazing thing was Mickelson wasn’t the only player who should have been issued a bib on the final teebox. Monty, just days away from his 43rd birthday, looked as if he might finally record his long-awaited major breakthrough when he arrived at the 18th at 4-over, one hole ahead and one stroke behind the wild Mickelson.

But after an absolutely perfect drive left the Scot just 172 yards from a pin that required his signature left-to-right ball flight, Monty pulled the wrong club and then hit a total fat, fan-job 15 yards right and short of the green into the USGA’s calf-high spinach. He gouged his third to the back left of the green, hammered his 35-foot par putt 10 feet past the cup and then pulled his bogey bid to cement another near-miss major nightmare.

“This is as difficult as it gets. You wonder sometimes why you put yourself through this,” said Monty, who chose humor for the humbling moment. “I look forward to coming back next year and trying for another U.S. Open disaster.”

This death spirals of Harrington and Furyk, while somewhat less dramatic, were equally galling given their solid major resumes. After playing sterling bogey-free golf for 15 holes, Harrington no doubt felt the Open’s stress noose and finished with three consecutive closing bogeys.

And Furyk, the 2003 Open champion, three-putted No. 15 from 20 feet and then blocked a five-footer for par at the last. Meanwhile, with everyone unraveling around him, Ogilvy carded a pair of all-universe pars on the final two holes to collect his first major title. He holed a 40-foot chip for par from the back fringe on No. 17 and then recovered from a horrible break off the 18th tee (his center-cut drive finding a divot) with a brilliant up-and-down par from the treacherous slope in front of the final green.

“It’s still sinking in,” said Ogilvy after becoming the first Australian to win a major since Steve Elkington dropped Montgomerie in the 1995 PGA Championship. “I honestly didn’t think it would be me. I thought it would be by [Adam Scott] or [Stuart Appleby] or a few other Aussies who have been ahead of me. You never think it’s going to be you. It’s kind of bizarre.”

That’s certainly one word for it.

Well, the golf world wanted to know what would happen without Tiger around for the weekend at a major. Yesterday’s answer sure wasn’t very pretty.

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