The US Open of Close Calls and Almosts

Tournament will be remembered for who didn't win

When it was over, they stood together at the ceremony, Lucas Glover, Phil Mickelson, David Duval and Ricky Barnes.

And then someone handed the cup to the wrong guy.

Glover. Yes, he won the U.S. Open Monday, and he deserved it. But this tournament is going to be remembered for the other three guys, and maybe for Tiger Woods, too.

This U.S. Open will forever be defined by the guys who didn't win.

Glover will be an answer to a trivia question.

And the name on the cup, too. Don't forget that. This is his title, and a great personal victory for a journeyman whose name goes on that cup with many of the game's all-time greats.

"I hope I don't downgrade it or anything," he said with the cup seemingly glued to his hand after posting a 4-under for the tournament, "with my name on there."

Woods, Mickelson, Duval and Barnes take away different things, success and failure, arrival and return.

For Woods, it was sheer failure. For Barnes, glass half-full. For Mickelson, well, he choked again at an Open, but this week was just too much for him.

Of all of them, I feel best for Duval. He had fallen into the dark for so long. Just like that, he went from golf's mountaintop. But he insisted that David Duval is not a quitter, and he kept talking all week about his kids, how quitting would send them the wrong message.

Years ago, when Duval was king, he just seemed like a weird guy, talking in a quiet whine, and acting as if he were a little uncomfortable for his own brain. And he hid behind those wraparound glasses.

But he talked all week about his kids, that he wanted them to know that he really could be a good golfer. Well, you think about all that, and realize a guy who has a lot of money spent six years of hell so that his kids would be proud of him.

And then Father's Day comes during his re-emergence, and he finishes tied for second at 2-under, after briefly being tied for the lead. He comes to the ceremony holding his youngest son, Brayden, and well, it was hard not to feel something.

"It may be arrogance," he said, "but it's where I feel like I belong."

He hadn't had a top-10 finish in seven years. And his confidence was shot.

And now he was back, and his kids could know.

"I was in the middle of a golf tournament trying to make birdies," he said. "And I was just having a blast."

For Woods, the picture is only cloudier. He finished in sixth place, at even-par, and was the biggest disappointment on the course. There has been some dispute these past few months about whether his multiple top-10 finishes have been a sign that he's back, following knee surgery, or that he's not.

I'll go with the second one. Tiger Woods has never been about top-10 finishes.

And it was clear at the TPC a few weeks ago that he had lost his swing, and didn't know how or why. But when he won the Memorial, everything had clicked back. He was supposed to take it from there.

Instead, he was never in the tournament. Not from the end of the first day.

"I striped it this week," he said. "I hit it just like I did at Memorial, and unfortunately I didn't make anything."

I don't know. Maybe he's just still recovering, but he has had plenty of time to find his groove now.

He still stands at 14 major titles, four behind Jack Nicklaus' record.

And he's 33 and has had knee troubles.

He's still likely to pass Nicklaus, but it's not a no-brainer anymore, especially after the way he fell apart at the end of the Masters.

Barnes was always a choke waiting to happen. But he nearly emerged with cult-figure status, with good looks, cool language and the goofy painter's cap.

"I was bummed because I had the lead," he said. "Some people could say I gagged it on the front, but I finished strong."

He kept coming back to those last six holes, and it meant something to him. Six years ago, Barnes was supposed to be the great rival for Woods. He got big endorsement bucks and was put on a Woods video game.

But he never made it. So he and Duval emerged from nowhere at the Open.

Barnes had the lead at the start of the day, but by the fifth hole, the pressure was too much.

He started hooking shots and taking chances when he shouldn't, then getting too tentative. It was four straight bogeys. It was total meltdown.

But on the final six holes, he made a birdie and then a few pars and realized he was still in this thing. It wasn't until his missed putt on 18 that he was done. He finished tied for second.

"Bridesmaid," he said, "isn't too bad."

And Mickelson? Well, the New York crowd already loved him, and that only increased with sympathy for what he was going through with his wife, Amy, recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

At one point, the crowd was roughly 15 deep for him, chanting his name and doing the rhythmic-clapping thing. When he walked across the street from the 14th green to the 15th tee, people were running down a hill to get a view, funneling into an area held off by security. One father was pointing out Phil to his son.

This was the potential for history, and it was the moment of Mickelson's career. He was that close to superstardom.

He tied for the lead before missing two short putts, also finishing 2-under, tied for second.

"Kind of an emotional four or five days," he said. "Certainly I'm disappointed. But now that it's over, I've got more important things going on and, oh well."

When Mickelson was done, and out of hope, he walked to the clubhouse, passing the official holding the cup. Fans poured out.

Glover didn't have it won yet. But the story was over.

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