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Nifty Fifty: Phil Mickelson makes Kiawah his sixth major title

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On absolutely no one’s radar screen but his own at the beginning of the third week of May, Phil Mickelson defied all odds and overcame all challenges to claim the 2021 PGA Championship. Mickelson first won the PGA in 2005 at Baltusrol in New Jersey. He also owns three Masters titles and the 2013 British Open title. Have I mentioned that Mickelson turned 50 last June and became the oldest winner of any major championship in history?

The week began as most major weeks commence: an unproven young’un atop the leader board. This time, it was Corey Conners, a product of Canada and Kent State University. Conners marked six birdies on his scorecard that day and finished ahead by two at minus-5. He began Friday as poorly as he did well on Thursday, finishing with 75 and ultimately placing 17th. Mickelson nearly played himself out of South Carolina on opening day. He stood plus-4 after six holes but rebounded on the tougher stretch of the course with six birdies and posted 70.

Day two saw Lefty reverse his fortunes. He teed off on the back nine and posted 38. He came alive on the front nine, posting five birdies for another 31, and a 69 on the day. Mickelson’s 139 total was matched by South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, also a British Open champion (2010). Oosthuizen followed a 71 with 68, to earn a spot in the final pairing with the lefthander.

Day three witnessed a near runaway by he of the aged vintage. Mickelson again played the front nine in exquisite fashion. He posted four birdies for 32 on his way out and added a fifth at the 10th hole, to reach 10 strokes under par. Two holes later, he made his first bogey of the round and followed it with a double at 13. He would finish the day at 7-under par, one shot ahead of two-time PGA champion Brooks Koepka.

It’s rare that a golf course ages into technology, but the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island improves in just that fashion. Unlike the TPC course in Sawgrass, that has undergone myriad renovations and alterations over the years, the Ocean Course remains exactly as it was when it held the 1991 Ryder Cup, in its first year of play. With its combination of forced carries, ocean breezes, and flexible setup — and its length, the Ocean Course stands firm against the advances of human strength and technology.

Koepka and Mickelson teed off in Sunday’s final pairing and Mickelson immediately surrendered his one-stroke advantage. Koepka opened with a textbook birdie, while Mickelson showed all the nerves of a teenager on a first date and scribbled bogey on his card. One hole later, fortune again reversed its course. Koepka had owned the Ocean Course par-5 holes all week but would toss away his chance at victory with a double and a bogey on the first two long holes on Sunday. Koepka is normally one of the game’s great drivers of the ball, but he was tentative on Sunday, turning his fade into a tug. The tug did him in on holes two and seven.

What was most enervating for the big Florida man was, his wretched 7 and 6 each followed a birdie. Who can explain that? It was that sort of day on the spit of land called Kiawah Island. Mickelson was having a topsy-turvy start of his own. He didn’t make a par until the fourth, following his opening bogey with birdie-bogey. He then went birdie-bogey-birdie for the five through seven stretch, and expanded his advantage! When he made his fourth birdie of the day, at the tenth hole, he held a five-shot advantage, and ignited the mask-free crowds into a frenzy of adulation and fandom.

Mickelson’s sixth major title was his first with younger brother Tim on the bag. As the pair marched toward destiny’s embrace, it was easy to see the same emotion spread across each brother’s face. The younger one wanting to serve the older one with accurate numbers and proper support; the older one wanting to execute the strategy planned out with the younger one’s help.

As the holes waned, Louis Oosthuizen reached minus-4 and closed to within two of Mickelson’s lead. The South African golfer needed at least one birdie on the closing pair, but was unable to do better than pars. Koepka had birdies at 15 and 16 and, like Louis, needed one more to make Phil think and squeeze harder, but it was not to be. Mickelson made safe bogey at 17 and safe par at 18, and won by two.

It’s ironic that Mickelson reclaimed his place at the top of the game as well as a likely spot on the USA Ryder Cup side in Wisconsin, in the year that Tiger Woods once again racked himself up with self-inflicted injury. If anything will motivate the great one to rebound, it’s a Mickelson victory. So cheers to you, Mr. Mickelson. You’ve given us a wonderful May and an even better 2021 and 2022 to come.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

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19th Hole

Fans react to spectator running onto fairway and hitting shots at U.S. Open

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Sunday at Torrey Pines was a wild rollercoaster ride, and amongst the chaos came a bizarre moment when a fan decided that he would like to play some shots too.

Appearing to be carrying his own clubs, the shirtless fan with a rainbow cape slipped under the ropes and made a dart for the fairway. Then with his golf club in hand, he dropped a ball from his pocket and played multiple shots before security took care of him.

Rich Beem caught the incident on camera, and his reaction of “Look at this idiot out here” perfectly sums up the madness of what was happening.

 

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However, some GolfWRXers reacted differently, with a couple even impressed by the caped crusader’s swing.

“He’s got a nice swing”, wrote one user, while another responded, “Great tempo, I must say”, with one even requesting a WITB: “Can we get a WITB for this guy??”

One of the strangest moments on a Sunday at the U.S. Open since the infamous Birdman of Alcatraz back in 2012.

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Gure Txapelduna! Jon Rahm Rodriguez claims 2021 U.S. Open title

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The amateur statistician in me is overwhelmed by the fact that NO ONE shot lower than 67 on any given day, and that either 2, 3, or 4 golfers shot that number each day. The linguist in me is thrilled that Spain and the Basque Country have their first US Open champion. The human being in me continues to marvel at how professional golfers can put themselves through the agony of major-championship competition, knowing that the outcome is likely to be gut-wrenching and heart-rending. Professional sport is a fierce cauldron of emotion and exertion and unexpected brilliance. How else to explain the finishes of Harris English (third) and Guido Migliozzi (fourth) at Torrey Pines? They weren’t the story, however. They never should have been there, save for what was already alluded to above.

Jon Rahm played a near-perfect round of golf. He opened with birdies at one and two, and he closed with birdies at 17 and 18. In between, he traded a birdie and bogey and added 12 pars. The brilliant Basque hit eight fairways, and a massive 14 greens in regulation. Only Edoardo Molinari and Rikuya Hoshino were better on the day with approach play, and that was by one more GIR each. It was what the Spaniard did with his flat stick, that made the difference. Rahm putted brilliantly, taking 28 putts on the day. You might expect 28 putts from someone who hit 10 greens in regulation figures, but not from someone who ranked so high. In contrast, the aforementioned Hoshino (31 putts) and Molinari (34) putted more in line with a high GIR tally. Most importantly, Rahm stayed out of trouble.

That could not be said for the mercurial Bryson DeChambeau. After nine holes on Sunday, the defending champion looked to be in prime position to hoist the winner’s medal for a second consecutive year. Two of the tri-leaders (Hughes 77 for T15 and Henley 76 for T13) had fallen off the pace, and the third (Oosthuizen) was plodding along near par. Then came the inward half, and a grotesque tally of two bogeys, a double and a quad for the Californian nee Texan. DeChambeau drove the ball horribly, finding just three of the 14 fairways on the day. His putting was five higher than the eventual winner, and he simply lost his hold on his game. That’s the US Open; it turns the winds and the tide instantly against the sailor.

If a professional golfer were given the option of contending or not in major events, with no guarantee of victory, each golfer would accept the challenges and the inevitable heartbreak. Three of four men’s major championships have been completed this year, and Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen has finished T26, T2 and 2 in them. Known to the world as Louis, Mr. Oosthuizen has much satisfaction and much frustration on this Sunday evening. He outplayed everyone who mattered from tee to green in round four at Torrey Pines, but he couldn’t buy enough putts (four more than Rahm) to close the deal. Some will point to a wayward drive at the penultimate hole and say That’s the one that did it, but it’s always the body of work that paints the portrait. On this day, as last month at the PGA, and at the Masters in 2012, Louis Oosthuizen was in the hands of the fates until the very last moment, but his number simply did not come up.

That one hole might be the best way to sum up the tribulations of those who fell short. For DeChambeau, it was the double at 13, as it was for Morikawa. Rory’s double came one hole earlier, at the long 12th. Brooks didn’t have a double on the card, but his bogey at twelve forced him to go for broke. He performed admirably for a few holes, with birdies at 13 and 15, but the Open never lets you truly go for broke and get away with it, unless your name is Johnny Miller, and that happened once. And the aforementioned English had seven birdies on the day, but he also made bogey at three of his first four, and added a fourth later on. For Rahm, that one hole turned out to be the 4th. Unlike the others, he kept the hole in front of him and never bit off too much. Although he made bogey, he never threatened anything higher. And that is one way that, in hindsight, you win a U.S. Open.

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5 things we learned Saturday at the U.S. Open

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The U.S. Open reminds me at times of this monologue from Maurice Moss at the infamous The IT Crowd soccer match

Sure, Roy says a few things, but it’s really Moss who carries the scene. Some people get/like U.S. Open golf, and some do not. There’s usually little movement on the leaderboard unless someone makes a passel of bogeys and doubles. For the third consecutive round at Torrey Pines, 67 earned low daily honors. That’s just four strokes below par, so the birdie fanatics had little to cheer (like Moss.) In fact, sometimes, it’s hard to determine just who is winning, and who isn’t.

Well, that’s not exactly true. We know that this year’s Cinderella, Richard Bland, isn’t winning. Blandy ran out of gas on the back nine, making five bogies for 41 and 77 and tied for 21st. With that written, plenty of stories remain, and we’ve tracked down five five that you’ll agree are worthy of a spot in Five Things We Learned on day three of the US Open.

1. Spuds Mackenzie has a share of the lead

At least in Ontario, Poutine is a popular treat when you have the munchies. That’s our spuds reference, although Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes does share the grit of the bull terrier that hawked Budweiser back in the day. Hughes’ long game afforded him plenty of opportunities to chip away at par, and he made the most of them. His two hiccups came on the outward half, at the fourth and ninth holes. Approach shots went astray, and his chipping game failed to get him close enough for par saves. On the inward half, Hughes was brilliant. Two birdies and an eagle earned him a 32 and a minus-five total after three rounds. As he finished earliest at that number, Hughes was assured of a spot in Sunday’s final twosome, no matter what the chasers did.

2. Louis, Louis

No, not the song. This makes twice that the 2010 Open winner and champion golfer of the year has challenged into the final round of a 2021 major. The PGA didn’t end so well for him, if we’re talking victories. Let’s remember that, if not for Bubba’s wedge silliness, Oosthuizen might have a green jacket to wear while drinking from his claret jug. As things stand, Oosthuizen’s minus-five total has him even with Hughes and paired in the final twosome. Things will be different from his last-group match last month with Phil Mickelson. Let’s say that Hughes won’t have the fanatical following that Oosthuizen’s last partner had. Oh, did we mention how Louis finished off the day?

3. Rory and Bryson

No, they won’t play together. Rory gets Russell Henley in penultimate pairing, while Bryson tees it up with Scottie Schefler in the third-last pairing. Rory and Bryson do represent opposite sides of a conundrum: chase distance or don’t? Rory has been open about the toll that chasing yards put on his game, and he has spent the past year rediscovering much of his game that was lost. Torrey represents his first true chance to determine the worth of his quest. In contrast, Bryson is unabashed in his pursuit of distance, and has demonstrated that his method can have positive results. Rory reached minus-three on the strength of a four-under 67 on Saturday. He managed the front in one-under, then came alive on the inward half to match Paul Casey for day’s low round. Bryson had no bogies on his card on Saturday, and has an enviable, downward trend (73-69-68) in his scoring. I’ll say this: if he goes lower than 68 on Sunday, he keeps the trophy.

4. Rahm, DJ, and the Wolff

Jon Rahm got hosed by the 14th hole today. Sort of. He played carefully out of fairway sand, clanked the flag stick with his recovery, then got too aggressive with his par try. Other than that, he has more momentum going into Sunday. I say, forget caution; chase birdies. On egin!

Dustin Johnson is in a similar position. Come to think of it, so is Matthew Wolff. They are all within 4 shots of the lead, and there is no suggestion that any of the minus-5 guys will go any lower than 2 under on Sunday, to reach 7 under. Thus, what do these lads chase? Do they go for 66 and hope that it will be enough? I think so. It’s lower than any other round this week, but by one slim stroke. I’m hoping that the USGA will give us enough tempting hole locations to reward brave play. That would be a nice send-off for Mike Davis in his final U.S. Open as executive director and CEO.

5. Who do we like?

No one mentioned just yet. He first qualified for the U.S. Open in 2016, and one year later, earned low amateur honors. Slowly but surely, he has worked his way into contention in major events, tying for 4th and 8th in the last two PGA Championships. He has yet to win on the PGA Tour, but I say that he makes the 2021 U.S. Open his first tour win and his first major title. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Scottie Schefler, your 2021 Gorham Company trophy winner.

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