Monday, June 22, 2009

Mickelson Falls Short, But With Spirit, Heart Still a Winner

Well, it didn’t finish as planned. Courtesy of hearten humanity, spectators gathered to embrace emotional triumph for Phil Mickelson in support of his wife’s battle with breast cancer. Spectators were longing to witness an epic encore of Tiger Woods’ electrifying playoff win at Torrey Pines a year ago, shortly before spending eight months recovering from reconstructive knee surgery.

Now, those same fans are shocked out of this world, as he failed at capturing a major title for his first time in a full year. Even an improbable closure by David Duval would have profiled a good story at the U.S. Open, where rainy days and suspended play washed out the top-notch players as the masses were aiming for either inspiration or popularity.

Popularity belonged to Tiger, as inspiration belonged to Phil.

They are two players who have captivated our minds, hijacking our time of which we distinguished and braced Tiger and Phil on each PGA Tour, where they have excelled tremendously.

But on this particular day that tested momentum in the arrival of Ricky Barnes and Mickelson’s near-emotional win, an impetus Lucas Glover prevailed in the finale of five long days to converge at the closure and captured only the second victory of his PGA Tour career. He won with excellent poise, and attained a long-awaited dream, bashing Mickelson’s inspiring story that touched hearts of many, encouraging a win for his wife Amy. The heartfelt story almost occurred in the grandest moment of Mickelson’s career and was close to achieving his most memorable win.

One reason is for the fans' reactions, sharing their strong support. On several different occasions, the crowd roughly cheered on a feel-good story, confident of his chances. When he walked to the 15th tee, half of the crowd sprinted down the hill to get a close view of his shot off the tee, anything for a man coping with his wife’s illness. The generous fans were caring, waiting for him to arrive at the ceremony hoisting the silver.

Instead, Glover was presented with the silver cup. He was the deserving winner, surviving exhaust and long-suffering days and surprised us all with the improbable finish. You probably had in mind that Woods was going to defend his title, assuming you didn’t have in mind that he would finish this year with a major title.

If he had won, it would have being his 15thmajor title. And if Mickelson had won, it would have marked an illustrious moment of a lifetime. Unfortunately, Woods collapsed in the first-round, missing putts he normally makes to enthrall spectators viewing the scenes from the gallery. I have to think that this was Tiger’s worst performance of the PGA Tour.

Yes, heavy rains and soggy fairways played a part to his mudballs, but too many missed putts cost him the title, which was supposed to be the rebirth of Tiger. More than anything he was frustrated of his subpar play, and mentally and physically anguished of his constant struggles, he finished each of his three rounds in the 60’s.

Yet again, Tiger capped an identical number, closing out a frustrating loss with a 1-under 69. He was in trouble and lifeless in the first round, failing on the final four holes of his rain-slopped mudballs.

On the other side, Mickelson held poise, staying in contention on the final day. Only it would have been nice if he could have hoisted one for Amy, but he fell short of a win late in the final hour. He rose to the top of the leaderboard, seeking to present silver to his wife who's nearing her breast cancer treatment, was craving the cup in her hospital room. Playing with a heavy heart, Mickelson's style was relentless and stylish as his pinstriped pants. At the very least, all of them presented themselves with a known trademark. Ricky Barnes wore his painter’s hat and Woods wore his red Nike shirt, along with his usual Tiger Nike cap.

On this day, the world will embrace and present Glover with the silver, a journeyman rolling in an 8-footer on the par-4 16th hole, asserting a two-shot lead of Duval at Bethpage Black.

For some time, I picked Barnes to win the open, the renaissance of a gifted player. He hasn’t played profoundly in six years, and collapsed in the minor league Nationwide Tour. Even though I was pulling for Mickelson, and was emotionally disheartened about the terrible news of his wife’s health, it was rational to consider distributing the silver cup to Barnes.

For much of the day, fans chanted “Lets go Phil,” which were well deserved chants. On this glorious day, despite coming up short, Mickelson made a 35-foot birdie putt on the 12th hole and followed with an astonishing shot on the 13th hole, where he capitalized on an eagle.

Not bad for a guy battling through tragic moments in his life. It’s tough for a normal citizen, dealing with a spouse or anyone for that matter with an illness. There’s not a day that progresses without Mickelson worrying dearly about his wife’s health, which is why he set a goal entering the Open-WIN ONE FOR AMY.

So delighted were the fans, rooting for him, more than his arch nemesis Tiger Woods. Uh!

Yes, for once in the late stages of his career, Tiger was disregarded.

All of this was because of humanity, feeling sympathy for Mickelson. In reality, illnesses are something you never are ready to accept, and in reality Mickelson is dealing with an everyday predicament.

Winning was in his favor, but once he arrived to the 15th tee, mental lapses ended the dream. He stumbled, missing a critical par putt nearly three feet from the hole. At the 17th tee, the pressure suddenly struck Mickelson in front of New Yorkers, pledging and viewing heavily, with prayers he would finish on the biggest shot.

But he botched on the play that didn’t have enough velocity, and unfortunately rested short of the hole for his second bogey in three holes. It was agonizing to come so close of placing a trophy near his wife’s hospital bed.

Nevertheless, it’s the thought that matters, and diligence of playing with an urgent mindset. For Glover, it was beyond the most glorious win in his career, and historic, too. When people least expected him, he shocked the spectators in the galleries of Bethpage Black and became the second player in 25 years to win a major in which he had never made a cut, battering everyone’s chances including David Duval's.

Unlike last year, this year's tournament was crazy and battered by heavy rains. This year's tournament was about surviving sloppy weather conditions more than maintaining poise as a player.

Yes, poise worked in Glover’s final round, but that wasn’t always the results for others, such as Tiger, having to withstand unfriendly muddy greens, flooded fairways and sloppy results that ended a replication of last year. Weather indeed tested the player’s game, difficult elements to gain success within.

That said, kudos to Glover, managing to survive and excel in the unfriendly elements, which qualified a silver cup. The 29-year old fulfilled a dream of his own, never finishing in the top-10 of any major and missed the cut in each of his U.S. Open appearances. So, grabbing his first victory was historical, and unforgettable, I might add.

But spiritually, Mickelson accomplished a goal by playing for Amy.

That’s a winner and Amy, too.