Mickelson looms large at Winged Foot
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2006 US Open | 18 Jun 2006
The often overused cliche by professional footballers that a game was ’a game of two halves’ could easily have been applied to the third round of the US Open. Many players either started or finished well but few combined the two.
At the completion of the day, ten players are within four shots of the lead and given the accidents that lie in wait at Winged Foot, the number of likely chances could yet extend beyond out as far as the fifteen players who are within five of the lead.
As the final group walked from the 54th green, the pre-tournament favourite Phil Mickelson had re-established himself as the tournament favourite after what had been a very ordinary start to his third round, while several others, who had been in or near the lead at the start of their rounds, fell victim to the vagaries of one of the game’s toughest tests.
Mickelson was all over the place in his opening few holes, his rhythm well out of kilter and drives at the first two holes had observers and no doubt Mickelson himself wondering just what was happening to his swing. It appeared to this casual observer that he was reaching for the ball but once he managed to get it sorted out, whatever it may have been, we began to once again see the game that has made Mickelson the dominant performer in majors in the last two years. It might just be that by this time tomorrow he has further enhanced that reputation.
The 36-year-old was simply brilliant over the closing nine holes. His par at the 10th was the result of a stunning high lob from twelve yards short of the green after his ball had rolled back there from the front fringe. After consecutive bogeys at the 8th and 9th Mickelson needed something to get things back on track and although it was only a par save there was a feeling that the shot might do just that.
From that point on things turned around for Mickelson as he began to reel of a series of quality shots. They were not initially yielding birdies but pars were friends on this toughest of tests. The first birdie on the back nine came when he hit his approach to eight feet at the 14th and when he had made that he was at three over and within three.
He had another chance at the 15th but missed, although at the 16th after his second from 178 yards finished fifteen feet from the hole he added another birdie and was at two over. Although he hit great shots at the 17th and 18th, Mickelson was unable to convert realistic chances but it was clear he was back in tournament rythym and as he walked from the last green he had set a mark for those still out on the course.
“I am really looking forward to tomorrow, said Mickelson in his post round conference. “I realise there are still a lot of players in with a chance and I still have a lot of work to do but I am excited and happy to have fought my way back into contention. We don’t often have the chance to be tested like this and I find it a great test and a lot of fun.”
Kenneth Ferrie made a solid start with a birdie from 15 feet at the third which got him within one of Stricker at that stage. Despite a bogey at the 4th, he hit his approach to the par five 5th to less than two feet and the eagle he converted there had him in a share of the lead. Surely this couldn’t last. After all this was Ferrie’s first US Open but his record in big events is perhaps better the it appears at first glance and he was not about to go away.
The two leading players at the start of the day, Steve Stricker and Colin Montgomerie, both struggled on day three but they had contrasting beginnings and ends to their rounds. Montgomerie who had been so immaculate from the tee for much of the first two rounds missed his first two fairways and took bogey each time then at the third, after missing the green left and short siding himself, he chunked his pitch into the bunker and took double bogey. To his absolute credit he fought back and after being five over through his first five holes he played the last thirteen holes in even par and just three behind the leaders, he still has a great chance.
Stricker on the other hand started his round beautifully, hitting fairways and greens and when he birdied the par five 5th after a brilliant wood from the fairway he was at two under and ahead by one but this time over Ferrie. Stricker had made the start he had probably dreamed of overnight but that dream would begin to turn into a nightmare almost immediately. He finally missed a fairway at the 6th and when he hit a tree with his attempt to reach the green, he took bogey. Another bogey followed at the 8th and he was one behind Ferrie and when he bogeyed the 9th after missing a ten foot par he was still one back of Ferrie who was playing in the group ahead with Geoff Ogilvy.
Stricker seemed to steady the ship briefly but at the 14th he took double bogey after driving it left and then was not able to get it out of the rough with his second. At four over he was three back but certainly not out of it especially if he could par in. He was not able to do so, a bogey at the last seeing him finish with 76 and a five over total. He is not yet completely out of contention but tomorrow he will need to turn around some negative momentum late in today’s round.
Geoff Ogilvy missed the fairway at the first and could only hack it down towards the green and eventually took bogey. From that point on however he was very impressive and finally got his reward at the par three tenth hole when his tee shot finished ten feet behind the hole and when he had made that he was just one behind his playing partner, Ferrie.
Ogilvy hit a great putt at the 11th but had to settle for par and at the 12th after a massive drive he was in two minds as to what to do with his second. After much debate with his caddy he decided to hit a seven iron down the fairway rather than go with what may well have been his gut instinct and capitalise on his drive. Although he made par he seemed annoyed that he had not been able to take advantage of the opportunity his drive had presented. He seemed a little unsettled from that point on and a three putt bogey at the 13th was followed by a very disappointing bogey at the last after a great tee shot. At three over however and just one back, Ogilvy still has a great chance to be the first Australian to win a major in nearly eleven years.
“I started the day two behind and now I am one behind so I am going forward,” Ogilvy told the Australasian PGA Tour. “If anyone asked me at the start of the week what I wanted out of this week it would have been that I just wanted to get into contention and play in the last few groups on Sunday. Whatever happens tomorrow I will wake up on Monday morning a better player for the experience and if I win it will be just a bonus.”
Others came back into the reckoning with solid third rounds more especially Vijay Singh and Ian Poulter. Poulter’s biggest task tonight and tomorrow will be to put his last hole double bogey out of his mind and remind himself that he is but three shot from the US Open lead. That in itself will not be an easy task. He got caught short of the green and the false front fooled him and his chip returned to his feet.
His eagle at the 5th from six feet was stunning and so to his birdie at the 10th which got him to two over. They are probably better memories on which to dwell overnight Much of his hard work was brought undone at the last but he is still very much in it. He would be a surprise winner but having said that much of his game is suited to US Open style golf.
“I can’t think I mishit a golf shot out there today, he said later. “At 18 I hit what I thought was a perfect golf shot, a couple of yards short. A yard more and I’m telling you, that ball was stiff. I didn’t even hit a bad chip shot. I think it just caught the fringe. Half an inch more, it would have skipped up.”
“I love it,” said Poulter referring to the golf course. “It suits my eye. I think it’s very, very fair, and it’s the fairest U.S. Open course I’ve seen. If you miss a fairway, yeah, it’s going to be tough, but you can still hit a couple golf shots. As long as you leave yourself a good leave, then you’ve got a chance at making par.”
Vijay Singh has been lurking for much of the week and today, although he did not drive it well, he putted well and has put himself right back into calculations for tomorrow. A missed chance from close range at the 17th would have had him just that much closer but it may be that he is close enough.
Others still with chances include Montgomerie, Stricker, Mike Weir, Padraig Harrington and Jim Furyk. A triple bogey at the last was like a knife to the stomach for Harrington who had done so well especially early in the round when he got within one of the lead. Furyk will also rue his double at the 10th and two late bogies but the battle hardened 36 year old is still in with a chance of his second US Open title.
Of the Australians other than Ogilvy, Adam Scott was very solid with his third round 70 but his title hopes perhaps disappeared yesterday, Nick O’Hern fell away after a promising start and Robert Allenby will need a round even better than his brilliant last day 70 at Shinnecock if he is to have any chance of a great week.