Commentary

There's still hope for a soggy U.S. Open

Originally Published: June 21, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- Not much going on here at the U.S. Open. One co-leader who has never won anything anywhere on the tour and another who had never made an Open cut being chased by a guy whose head is at Bethpage Black, but whose heart is back in Southern California with his cancer-stricken wife.

U.S. Open co-leaders Ricky Barnes and Lucas Glover, meet three-time majors champion Phil Mickelson.

Underdogs, meet The People's Choice.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesThe greatest final-round comeback in U.S. Open history is 7 shots, set by Arnold Palmer in 1960. If Tiger Woods happens to capture his 15th major Monday, he'd eclipse that mark by two.

It took four days (and a fifth to come), but the Open is finally interesting, which is a lot better than what it was entering Sunday's play -- a water-logged zzzzzzzzz-fest. At last something is actually happening, and it doesn't involve rain, muck, air horns, refund controversies and drunks disguised as golf fans.

Instead, we've got an actual car chase. Barnes and Glover are steering the lead vehicle at 7-under par, but there in their rearview mirror is Mickelson, just 5 strokes behind with 17 holes remaining. Five shots isn't the same as 1, but then again, Barnes and Glover aren't the same as Mickelson.

Mickelson has won two Masters, a PGA Championship and if not for his "I am such an idiot" moment at Winged Foot in 2006, he'd have at least one U.S. trophy too. Instead, he has four second-place Open finishes. And New Yorkers love him so much that they've contacted an agency about adoption.

Barnes hasn't won a thing as a pro. Hasn't come close. Him and the majors rarely have second dates. And until this past week, Barnes and the U.S. Open got along as well as Jon and Kate.

Glover has won once on tour, but that was almost four years ago. The Funai Classic at Walt Disney World Resort isn't the same as the Open, where some one-time leaders needed tracheotomies to breathe.

But Barnes and Glover will wake up Monday morning with the Open lead -- that is, if they get any sleep at all. Mickelson knows the feeling. Mickelson knows all the feelings.

ESPN360.com

Monday's final-round U.S. Open coverage
• 9-11:30 a.m. ET -- ESPN
• 11:30 a.m. ET until conclusion -- NBC

Playoff (if necessary, times tentative)
• 1:30-3:30 p.m. ET -- ESPN
• 3:30-5:30 p.m. ET -- NBC

• NOTE: All coverage also on ESPN360.com

"I've been there and know what can happen in the final round when you start trying to protect the lead," Mickelson said between Sunday's third round and the start of the fourth. "I also have been there where I'm trying to make up the difference and trying to mount a charge. I've been there. ... and having a lead is obviously the best spot to be in. But again, anything can happen in the U.S. Open."

Tiger Woods didn't look like he was going to happen. At one point Sunday, he was so far back (14 shots behind Barnes) that he needed TomTom directions to the leaderboard. It got so bad that I actually thought Woods and his putter might file for divorce.

"I've been lipping it out, burning the edges and just haven't gotten it right yet," he said shortly before starting the fourth round Sunday night.

But after an opening-round 4-over-par 74, Woods posted a 69, then 68 and had two birdies before darkness ended his final round Sunday night after seven holes. He's at even-par.

This Open desperately needed Woods or Mickelson to put the defibrillator paddles on this tournament's chest. Otherwise, it was going to be known for its weeklong monsoon season, a so-so leaderboard, and the story of the drunken fan who bogarted his way onto a media shuttle and urinated into a plastic bag when the driver refused to pull off the Long Island Expressway for a potty break.

Woods almost was done in by that Thursday 74, by his putting stroke and by being stuck on the rain side of the draw. And yet here he is, still with a chance. It wasn't much to look at, but he'll take it.

And then there was Mickelson, who still might rescue this Open from itself. His third round, which he completed late Sunday afternoon, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. His front nine: par, par, birdie, par, bogey, double bogey, birdie, birdie, bogey. His back nine featured two bogeys and four birdies, including a 40-footer on No. 18 that moved Mickelson to 2-under for the tournament.

"A big psychological birdie," he said.

How Mickelson is in contention for anything is beyond me. His wife Amy begins treatment for breast cancer in less than two weeks. But the Bethpage Black galleries have smothered Mickelson with bear hugs and verbal chicken soup. And he's done what Woods hasn't: make putts.

"If there were 30 people ahead of me I would have to shoot 8-, 9- or 10-under par to have a chance; and there are two," said Mickelson. "If I get a hot round going I can get a little bit of momentum. Absolutely I feel like I can make up the difference."

Mickelson and Woods would never say it, but there isn't anybody on that leaderboard who gives them the heebie-jeebies. There's Barnes, who got as low as 11-under Sunday, but ended the night at 7-under. He jerked his final drive of the evening into the Ian Woosnam-high fescue on the par-4 second. He'll be lucky to be at 6-under when he completes the hole Monday morning. After that, who knows?

Glover is at 7-under, but he's never been here before -- tied for the U.S. Open lead on the final day. His three previous Open appearances were all cameos: missed cuts in 2002, 2006 and 2007.

That leaves the minus-2s -- David Duval (ranked No. 882 in the world), Ross Fisher, Hunter Mahan and Mickelson; the minus-1 (Mike Weir) and the even-pars (Woods, Soren Hansen, Graeme McDowell, Bubba Watson and Retief Goosen).

"It's one of those where you have to play a great round of golf and get some help," Woods said.

Woods got it. The lug nuts seem to be loosening on Barnes' swing. Glover has never seriously challenged for a major. Only 7 strokes separate Woods from the greatest U.S. Open comeback of all time and only 5 shots separate Mickelson from the most heartwarming victory in golf history.

The U.S. Open now has a pulse. It's about time.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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