Holding the lead in the U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson once made a horrible decision. Tied for the lead in the U.S. Open, Jim Furyk just made a terrible swing.
Of all the shots played over four days at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Furyk’s snap-hooked tee shot on the 16th hole Sunday is the one that resonates with me. It’s a perfect example of what having a chance to win a major tournament like the Open can do to a golfer — even if he’s won it before.
Six years ago, Mickelson never should have hit a driver off the 18th tee at Winged Foot. That choice cost him the tournament. Furyk’s case was different. He played conservatively with a fairway wood, only to have his usually dependable swing defy him and send the ball careening into the trees. He bogeyed the par-5 hole to fall out of a tie for the lead with Webb Simpson and eventually tied for fourth place, two strokes behind.
Furyk said he was thrown off by tournament officials’ decision to move up that tee some 100 yards Sunday, creating a more abrupt turn, but that fails to explain his bad swing.
This was another fascinating Open, in so many ways. The winning score was 1 over par for 72 holes, so pars were at a premium, as always. Yet Simpson made 13 birdies in four days, so there was nothing boring about it.
Simpson shot 68-68 on the weekend, to Tiger Woods’ 75-73. Simpson’s victory continued the trend of lesser-known players winning at Olympic, and that’s not all. The last nine winners of major tournaments have become first-time major champions, and the last 15 majors have produced 15 different winners.
That’s the world Woods is trying to conquer in his quest to tie Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major titles. Beginning Sunday, the United States Golf Association now awards the Jack Nicklaus Medal to the U.S. Open champion, which would have made an interesting twist if Tiger had won. But he faded on the weekend, keeping him stuck at 14 majors — right where he was at this time four years ago.
Out of admiration of Nicklaus, I’ve aligned myself with him as the protector of his record, not wanting it to be broken by Woods or anyone else — not that there ever will be another contender. In any case, I like our chances of keeping it.