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Archive for Monday, June 17, 2002

U.S. Open: Mickelson settles for second place

June 17, 2002

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— Phil Mickelson will tell you he didn't back down from Tiger Woods. And true, Lefty was the only one with even a glimmer of hope as the storm clouds cleared out Sunday in the U.S. Open.

It hardly mattered, though. Mickelson had too many strokes to make up in the final round, especially when his target was the greatest player of this and maybe any other generation.

So the wait goes on.

The Best Player Never to Win a Major dropped to 0-for-40 in the biggest tournaments, even though he certainly didn't fade on the last day.

"It would be much more difficult if I didn't have a shot at it," Mickelson said. "But that doesn't take away my disappointment or feeling of lost opportunity."

Mickelson, whose final-round average in 11 previous Opens was 74.1, shot par 70 on the Bethpage Black Course.

All it got him was another runner-up finish, his second in the Open and third overall in a major.

Woods, only 26, won his eighth major championship and seventh of the last 11 by a comfortable three-stroke margin.

Mickelson, who marked his 32nd birthday on Father's Day, always figured he would have one or two by now.

"If I keep putting myself in these positions," he said, showing no sign of losing hope, "I'll get one of those breaks and win one of these."

This story is getting old especially for Mickelson, who had a blank look on his face at the 16th hole when an 8-footer to save par slipped past the cup, ending whatever hope he still had.

Mickelson had another bogey at 17, his mental edge gone as a short putt lipped out of the cup. By then, he just wanted to enjoy the raucous and sympathetic cheers of the gallery on the walk up the final fairway.

"This is one of the most exciting days I've had in golf," he said.

Mickelson was clearly the people's champion on the people's course.

When the scoreboard along the 18th green posted a birdie for Mickelson on the first hole, the stands erupted. The cheers got louder when bogeys went up for Woods on the first two holes. The lovefest didn't let up all the way around the course.

"I have never seen a crowd behind a player the way they were today with Phil," said Jeff Maggert, who played with Mickelson.

In the end, it didn't matter.

Instead of knocking off Woods, Mickelson introduced himself to Harry "Lighthorse" Cooper, who had seven top-3 finishes in the majors without ever winning one. Mickelson now has matched that mark.

At least there's still time. Mickelson has won 20 times on the PGA Tour, more than anyone else without a major. Ben Hogan had 29 victories before his first major. Sam Snead's first came with 27 wins on his resume.

"The more chances I give myself," he said, "eventually I'm going to break through."

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