Meltdown in Mamaroneck |

Meltdown in Mamaroneck

Jon Maletz

Forget one. For Phil Mickelson Sunday, six was the loneliest number: Lefty’s first U.S. Open title was well within reach ” the engraver must’ve been etching Mickelson’s name on the trophy as the golfer marched to the 72nd hole. The task in front of him was simple: Make par and make history.

What happened next was a train wreck no one could’ve fathomed. Mickelson, leading Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy by a stroke, double-bogeyed for the first time all week. It took just 15 minutes for Mickelson to script one of the grandest, most gut-wrenching catastrophes in majors history.

As the reality of the moment sunk in, all Lefty could do was hold his head in his hands.

“I just can’t believe that I did that,” a stunned Mickelson told reporters afterward. “I am such an idiot.”

He could’ve played it safe and hit 4-wood off the tee. It would have left him far back on the 450-yard par-4, but at least he’d be in position for a long iron and an up-and-down from near the green. But Mickelson, never one to play it conservatively, pulled the driver out of the bag.

The rationale? Phil was convinced the hole, a moderate dogleg left, set up perfectly for the fade he deemed his “bread-and-butter shot.” That bread was stale after five hours in the blistering New York sun ” Mickelson hit just two fairways in the final round.

Immediately after he completed his swing, a wide-eyed Mickelson mouthed the words “Oh no” for the gallery and the cameras to see. His club head was open on impact, and the ball veered so far left it grazed a corporate hospitality tent ” hang on to those cocktails. There go the sponsorships.

Phil’s caddie, Bones, should’ve pulled a Tin Cup and snapped the driver in two ” or at least cracked his partner upside the head. Mickelson, who obviously doesn’t grasp the concept of conservative play, cost Bones 10 percent of the winner’s cut and himself a third consecutive major.

Mickelson, now 210 yards from the hole, opted to slice the ball around a group of trees with a 3-iron instead of pitching out onto the fairway; hitting over the windmill and through the clown’s mouth would’ve been easier. His shot ricocheted off an elm and landed after traveling just 25 feet. Phil quickly learned what other humbled golfers had discovered during four excruciating days: Test Winged Foot and get a kick in the golf bag. This course always wins.

Undaunted ” and undeniably foolish ” Mickelson tried his slice from the trampled rough once more; shot No. 3 flew more than 25 feet, but plugged into a greenside bunker.

The following three strokes were as painful to watch as a Steven Seagal movie. Shot four landed on the green, then rolled into the rough; the agonizing sighs of the crowd grew with each revolution of the ball. Mickelson’s bogey pitch ” one he needed to hole to tie Ogilvy ” rolled hopelessly past the cup.

Shot six limped into the hole, capping the finale of Mickelson’s “Meltdown in Mamaroneck” (if anyone uses this for a made-for-television movie, be sure to contact me). The title rolls off the tongue better than Jean Van de Velde and the “Carnage at Carnoustie” in the 1999 British Open, but both left an equally bad taste.

Van de Velde needed only a double bogey on Carnoustie Golf Links’ par-4 18th to hoist the Claret Jug; he hit the grandstand, found the water and then a bunker en route to a triple. The Frenchman had a chance to redeem himself in a playoff, but the damage to his psyche proved too difficult to overcome.

Van de Velde undoubtedly has tried to put that one Sunday in Scotland, one that defined his career, behind him. For the foreseeable future, however, Mickelson’s comparable debacle won’t let any of us forget.

Who says golf doesn’t make for good TV? I couldn’t avert my eyes. Sunday’s coverage had a plot complete with drama and unforeseen twists. The main character, a hero revered by the hoards who lined every yard of fairway, was a sure bet to walk away a winner.

Without warning, however, the hero’s flaws were exposed on the grandest of stages. Mickelson unraveled like a cheap wool sweater. The pressure, coupled with his penchant for loose play and questionable decision-making, proved to be a volatile mix.

This one will hurt for a while. It’s hardly a coincidence Winged Foot’s famed No. 18 is named “Revelations.”

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