Sunday, June 26, 2022

Scheffler is the star at the US Open but Mickelson’s misery wins no sympathy after Saudi flirting

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Scheffler takes the lead but there has been a symbolic death for former fan favorite Mickelson after he was embroiled in the LIV Gulf civil war

It might not be illegal elsewhere. At the US Open, which is to golf what a needle’s eye is to camels, it was an invitation to make alternative plans for the weekend, especially after that fragrant chip on the fifth that would have made a hacker howl.

Channeling all his Masters gravitas, Scottie Scheffler rode through the morning in Boston to continue his remarkable assault on 2022. With two over par on the eighth hole, Scheffler was five away from the lead.

It’s a job to hold your ground, to keep what you have in this environment. Adam Hadwin’s one-shot overnight lead went to second. After three holes he was one behind. The wind got stiffer and the greens faster in the dry conditions. Scheffler effectively struggled to make the cut, but the “Goofy Guy” fireworks on the back nine changed the face of the tournament.

Two birdies and an eagle on four holes catapulted Scheffler to three under par and part of the lead. Rory McIlroy observes a class failure when he tees off in the afternoon. Too much time to think is a bad thing, even worse when your head fills with images of the world No. 1 filling his boots while other golfers grapple with the parameters of a US Open layout. Rather spend the morning with the offspring with children’s television or a bit of gluing and gluing than torment the soul.

Speaking of which, Matthys Daffue went from a three-under overnight to a six-under through seven holes, and that included a bogey on the second. The South African debutant, 10-year journeyman, had reporters crawling to Google to piece together a backstory rich in life; Setbacks, hardships, mental health issues, marriage, grief, parenting, success and finally qualifying for the US Open.

It would take all of that life experience to deal with the back nine. Bogeys at 11, 14, and 15 and a double on the last turned a three-shot lead into a two-shot deficit. Daffue nonetheless contributed the most notable shot of the day, a 3-wood off a carpet next to a concession tent on the 14th hole. It was the kind of shot that melts social media. The bogeyman he signed for could and should have been far worse. The last debutant to win this tournament was Francis Ouimet exactly 109 years ago at this very place. It’s not meant to be easy.

Another historical thread was Matt Fitzpatrick, who nine years ago became the first Briton to win the US Amateur in more than a century. Yes, you guessed it, at the country club, Brookline. Although Fitzpatrick has yet to win as a pro in the United States, the trend is strongly upward, and at two under par, he’s still an important part of this story.

Not so Phil Mickelson, who bottomed out at 11 over par, a thoroughly diminished figure. The US Open shaped him, as did his six major victories. Six-time runners-up, Mickelson’s unique relationship with his National Open deepened the American public’s bond. Tiger Woods was the signature golfer of the era, but Lefty always had the crowd on his side. No longer. After trading love for Saudi money with LIV Golf, Mickelson faces an uncertain future after setting his past on fire.

As Mickelson played his last, McIlroy made his way to the first tee. The symbolism of the emaciated Saudi defector saying goodbye while the virtuous McIlroy steps out into the sun would break the hearts of golf traditionalists. The scale of the Brookline challenge and the historic significance of the trophy to be won have temporarily quieted the Saudi noise. Make the most of the respite because the storm has only just begun.

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