By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 20/09/20 9:57pm
Have we seen the last of Phil Mickelson at the US Open? Is there any way back for Jordan Spieth? And what’s next for Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy? Here’s five things we learned in golf last week…
Was this Mickelson’s US Open farewell?
Phil Mickelson returned to the venue of arguably his worst US Open nightmare 14 years ago, when he held a one-shot lead on the 72nd tee, carved his drive, ran up a double-bogey six and gifted the title to Geoff Ogilvy.
His hopes of atonement were briefly raised when he recovered from poor drives to birdie his first two holes, but spraying his ball to all parts of Winged Foot soon resulted in inevitable consequences.
Over his next 34 holes, Mickelson would make only one further birdie, and rounds of 79 and 74 were seven too many to be around for the weekend, and could mark his final appearance in the one major to elude his collection.
The fiercely proud 50-year-old insisted earlier this year that he would turn down any future special invitations he would regard as “sympathy invites”, vowing to have another crack only if he qualified on merit.
But even if he did qualify, there’s no guarantee Mickelson would be keen to put himself through another two days, possible four, of gouging his ball out of thick rough – a probable futile exercise for a man who did not commit to playing at TPC Sawgrass last year until he was satisfied the rough was not overly punishing.
Thirty years and three months after finishing as low amateur on his US Open debut at Medinah, shooting 13 over par for 36 holes would be a sad way to bow out for the six-time runner up, but he could clean up on the Senior circuit, and there’s no doubt he can still be a factor on some of the friendlier PGA Tour layouts, of which there are many!
Is there any way back for Spieth?
One of the saddest statements from any player at Winged Foot came from Jordan Spieth after his first-round 73, when he said: “Standing on a tee at the US Open and not exactly knowing where the ball is going to go is not a great feeling.”
And that feeling clearly got even worse on Friday, when he carded an 81 and finished a shot behind Mickelson – Spieth’s second missed cut in the US Open in the last three years.
When he benefitted from Dustin Johnson’s three-putt on the 72nd green at Chambers Bay five years ago, Spieth was halfway to a possible Grand Slam of majors in a calendar year.
And it’s only three-and-a-bit years ago that he produced one of the most outstanding back-nine comebacks in Open history to have his name etched on the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale – prompting Butch Harmon to label him as golf’s equivalent of “Superman”.
He has not won anything, anywhere since.
There have been the occasional glimpses of Spieth regaining his best form, but each has proved a false dawn as he continues to slide towards the wrong end of the world’s top 100 players, an event that was impossible to fathom when he was posing for the cameras in front of the Birkdale clubhouse.
Of course, he’s working hard – possibly harder than ever – on the practice range trying to work things out, but it’s clear his confidence in all parts of his game is at an all-time low, and sinking lower – seemingly by the week.
No course for concern
One of the main topics of conversation in the build-up to any US Open is on the course set-up, and the prospects of hearing USGA chief Mike Davis admitting (but never apologising) that the tournament organisers may have got it wrong… again!
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Last year’s championship passed without incident, even the USGA can’t mess up Pebble Beach, but the memories of a shambolic Saturday at Shinnecock Hills are still fresh, and that will surely prompt the powers-that-be into erring on the side of caution for the foreseeable future.
Rory McIlroy said pre-tournament that “something would have to go seriously wrong to get into the realms of goofy golf”, with Winged Foot already one of the toughest tests in world golf without the need for interference.
And, by and large, there were few complaints about the conditions from the people that mattered – the players. Of course, the fairways were narrow, the rough thick and lush and the greens quick and firm, all required elements for a true US Open.
There were fears of a backlash after 21 players had the audacity to break the par of 70 on day one, but although only three got it round in red numbers on Friday, the difference was attributed mainly to the colder, breezier weather rather than the layout being “tricked up” by the authorities.
One thing they could do little about was the sheer power of the likes of Wolff and DeChambeau, in particular, who hit only five fairways between them in round three and still managed to shoot 65 and 70 respectively.
That’s a different argument for a different day, but one which will not go away anytime soon.
What next for Tiger and Rory?
Tiger Woods can look forward to wider fairways, no rough and more familiar greens when he defends his Masters title in a couple of months’ time. He paid the price for too many wayward tee shots, shot 73 and 77 and missed the cut for the second time at Winged Foot.
He can gain small consolation from making birdies at two of the last three holes to finish on 10 over and three ahead of long-time rival Phil Mickelson, but the days of spectacular, outlandish recoveries from wild drives appear to be long gone.
Woods can still be a factor at Augusta National and most Open Championship venues for some time to come, health permitting, but punishing US Open layouts are a different prospect and he may not enjoy next year’s return to Torrey Pines despite winning there eight times, including his last US Open win in 2008.
As for McIlroy, his long wait for a fifth major continues and it was another case of giving himself a genuine – if outside – chance going into the final round, and then falling at the final hurdle.
It would be understandable if we didn’t see him in action again until The Masters as he gets used to life as father to new daughter, Poppy, but McIlroy may already be shifting his focus to 2021 after a lean run of results post-lockdown.
The 31-year-old was in excellent shape over the first two months of the year but, by his own admission, he has struggled more than most to adapt to golf without noise and atmosphere generated by the spectators.
The dream ticket remains that the two biggest drawcards in golf go into a final-round showdown at Augusta tied for the lead, but would that still be a spectacle with no patrons on site?
Manassero back in the winner’s circle
Okay, this had nothing to do with events at Winged Foot, but if you want a feelgood story from the last week in golf, then turn your attentions away from the US Open and drift over to the Alps Tour, with Matteo Manassero winning his first title in seven years.
Manassero remains the youngest player to win on the European Tour, and he looked set to challenge the world’s elite after he won the flagship BMW PGA Championship in 2013.
Sadly, the young Italian fell on lean times since. Altering his swing in a bid to gain more distance proved a move that could have ended his career, while his putting stats also took an alarming nosedive.
With no status on the European Tour after losing his card, Manassero kept believing and entered the Toscana Alps Open on the Alps Tour in Italy having not made a cut in 17 events since the Oman Open in March 2019.
He won by a shot, and there will be many hoping this is a springboard back to elite professional golf from one of the nicest characters in the game. And he’s still only 27, time is on his side.
Source : Sky Sports