When the festival comes to town, it’s often the local hero who gets the chance to warm-up the crowd. As the headliners ended their rehearsals and moved centre stage, Phil Mickelson was already back home and staring at his Wanamaker Trophy nestled snugly adjacent to his movie-screen television.
After his superstar turn at Kiawah last month we wondered whether there would be an encore and Mickelson win the US Open to complete the career Grand Slam at the course he played hundreds of times as a boy.
As it turned out, we got Mickelson the full-grown man so many have come to love. Out in the early morning fog, it was Phil the thrill one minute, Phil the spill the next. He finished with a 73 to be outside the top 50.
Phil Mickelson’s bid to win the US Open at the 30th attempt ended in disappointment
No miracles this time, replaced by the modern generation at their exciting best. Charges over the front nine from Collin Morikawa and Brooks Koepka. As the unsung melted away, so Rory McIlroy, defending champion Bryson DeChambeau and tournament favourite Jon Rahm muscled their way to the top.
After nine holes all these players had positioned themselves in contention, alongside former Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen. Who would still be there after the back nine?
As for Mickelson, his was his 30th attempt to claim America’s national championship and it ended like a couple of his heartbreakers in the past, with an ugly six down the last hole.
What a way to sign off in front of his home fans, as a wildly off-line approach to this par five finished way beyond the green and adjacent to a grandstand filled with people watching the leaders tee off. The only surprise is he didn’t pitch it off the stand to 12ft and hole the putt. He probably would have had it mattered.
The 51-year-old kept the crowd entertained but made too many errors – finishing with a six
Outside the ropes, his wife and parents loved the spectacle, regardless.. It must be quite a thing watching your husband/son on home soil in this event.
‘It means a lot because of how many times my dad and I got to play round this course,’ said Phil. ‘When I made it into the school and college teams and we had matches here, he would come out to watch. So it’s not just because it’s Father’s Day and it’s the US Open in San Diego.
There’s all the memories that the week has brought back.’ As for the crowning at Kiawah last month, the 51 year old added: ‘It’s fair to say that win has still not sunk in fully, and I’m going to enjoy staring at the Wanamaker this summer. I still hope to add a friend alongside it as well.’
Typical Mickelson, he praised the ultra-fair set-up while still managing to have a dig at Mike Davis, outgoing CEO of the USGA. The pair have had quite the run-in over the years. You might remember Mickelson making a statement about Davis’s set-up, not to mention making a prat of himself, when he knocked his ball back and forth in a misguided protest at the greens at Shinnecock Hills in 2017.
Mickelson admits his win at Kiawah Island has not sunk in as he praised the course at the Open
‘I can’t tell you how impressed I am with the way the course has been set-up this year,’ said Mickelson, fully aware that Davis played no part. ‘This is my 30th Open and easily the best and the fairest layout that I have ever seen.’
For the two men who redefined what can be done in this sport this Spring, it was the day when Old Father Time delivered a stinging riposte. Not just Mickelson but Richard Bland, the oldest halfway leader in US Open history, came swiftly to earth as well. There was no escaping the 48 year old Englishman on American television on Saturday as his remarkable story was brought to a new audience.
There was no finding him 24 hours later as he finished before the leaders came to the closing holes. A third round 77, featuring no birdies, had seen to that.
As the luck of the draw would have it, by his side for the final round was Guido Migliozzi, the gifted Italian who Bland just happened to beat in a play-off to win his first tournament at the 478th attempt at The Belfry last month.
His fellow veteran Richard Bland also struggled as a double bogey saw him fall out the top 30
Bland’s run at the US Open has shocked fans but a birdie-free final round dashed his hopes
Bland didn’t draw much from the pairing this time. Just one birdie all day on this occasion as well, leading to a 78. When it goes in this sport, it goes.
Bland is due in Munich this week to play the BMW International on a far easier course where he won’t be wearing out his woods and long irons. Let’s hope he can rediscover the rhythm that has earned him so many more admirers. After all, he’s got another Open to try to get a spot in at Royal St George’s next month.
American Kyle Westmoreland didn’t have a good day, either, but he fully deserved the thunderous ovation he received from those around the 18th green. In the biggest military city in America, and the base for over 120,000 active personnel, it was recognition for the fact served his country for five years before he became a pro.
The 29 year old from Indiana is the first Air Force graduate to make the halfway cut in a US Open, and how appropriate he should do so here, where the jets flying constantly overhead must have left him feeling right at home.