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Mickelson second best (again) at U.S. Open

By BILL HUFFMAN
         The U.S. Open seems to befuddle Phil Mickelson like no other major, which is why he now holds the dubious distinction of being a runner-up in the national championship a record five times.
          Mickelson had a share of the lead with five holes to play at Bethpage Black on an extended Monday, and promptly bogeyed the 15th and 17th holes to lose a rain-plagued nail-biter to long shot Lucas Glover. It was reminiscent of Lefty’s failure coming down the stretch at the Masters in April, where he got into contention then faltered over the last four holes.
         All three of the runner-ups this time around – Mickelson, David Duval and Ricky Barnes — would have been a great story within the U.S. Open story. But it was the straight-laced Glover, a guy with virtually no track record to speak of in the majors, who walked away with the hardware by a comfortable two shots at 4-under-par 276.
        Mickelson grabbed his chunk of infamy by moving past a storied group of golfers who all had four runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open – Bobby Jones, Sam Snead Arnold Palmer and Jack Nickalus. By comparison, the former Arizona State All-American only has one runner-up finish in the other three majors (2001 PGA).
        Glover, who has one win in five years on the PGA Tour (2005 Walt Disney Classic), finally wore down Ricky Barnes in the final pairing with a bunch of pars and a critical birdie at the 16th hole. A classy kid from Clemson, Glover closed with a 73 to a 76 for Barnes, who had led by one stroke going into the final round before he got caught on the bogey train.
        Tiger Woods could do no better than a tie for sixth despite a closing 69. The No. 1 player on the planet has now gone four straight majors without moving closer to Nicklaus on the major championship list. Nicklaus is sitting on 18 majors compared to Tiger’s 14.
         Mickelson, whose wife Amy begins breast cancer treatment on July 1, had stated at the beginning of the week that he was trying to win the trophy so it could be in Amy’s hospital room during her cancer-treatment stay. But his putter kept that from happening, as he missed relative short putts to save par when it counted most.
       “Certainly I’m disappointed,’’ said Mickelson, who celebrated his 39th birthday on Tuesday. “But now that it’s over, I’ve got more important things going on.’’
       But asked about his fifth runner-up finish in a U.S. Open, Mickelson could only shrug.
      "I don’t know, I enjoy it, I play well in it, and I feel like I’ll have more chances (to win) it, ” Mickelson said of his U.S. Open track record, which includes three other top-10s and only two missed cuts in 18 appearances.
      Glover, who captured the 2003 Gila River Classic near Phoenix, didn’t really take control until the final three holes. Then again that’s usually the case when it comes to a U.S. Open.
      “Phil the Thrill’’ had wowed them at the 13th, where he hit a hybrid to five feet and made the putt for eagle. And it got really exciting when moments later, Duval made his third straight birdie at the 16th to create a three-way tie at the top when Glover bogeyed the 15th hole.
     But give Glover credit, as his birdie at No. 16 combined with bogeys by Mickelson and Duval at No. 17 led to the biggest moment of his life. Barnes had a chance to put some pressure on Glover at the 18th hole, but missed a birdie – barely! – from about 15 feet.
      “I’d be lying if I said the nerves didn’t kick in,’’ said Barnes, who had racked up seven bogeys through his first 12 holes before a birdie at No. 13 let him play the final six at 1 under.
      “I did hit some squirrelly shots and some mud balls. But I finally settled in (late in the round), and I had a chance at the end. I would have loved to finish second (place) alone, but I’m happy for Lucas.’’
     The Scottsdale pro and former University of Arizona All-American, who was ranked No. 519 in the world compared to Glover’s No. 71, had to qualify for the tournament in sectional play. It was Barnes’ first top-10 as a professional at the PGA Tour level, and the runner-up finish also gets him in to the upcoming British Open and 2010 Masters, which will both be firsts.
     Duval came from even further out of nowhere, as he was rated No. 882 in the world coming in. But much to the fans’ elation, Double D ended up somewhat remarkably with his first top-10 in a tournament in almost seven years. Amazing, considering Duval was rated No. 1 in the world just 10 years ago.
     Glover collects $1.35 million from the $7.5 million purse and a whole lot of respect he didn’t have before he got to Bethpage Black. He came in without a top-10 in 10 previous appearances in the majors. In fact, Glover had missed all four cuts in his previous four appearances in the U.S. Open. He also gets a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour as well as a five-year exemption into the majors.
     The mild-mannered champion aside, it was an exciting finish to a wild week that saw the U.S. Open never finish on time due to rain. Glover might not have been the most-popular choice to win at the end — maybe not even third or fourth most —  but he is the 109th winner of the national championship.