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Second-Best Week

Mickelson has many memories of Pinehurst in 1999, most of them good

June 15, 2005|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

PINEHURST, N.C. — Phil Mickelson is all yardage-book business this week as he seeks his first U.S. Open championship after three second-place finishes during a career that once was defined by his major misses.

Yet, as he pulled into Pinehurst this week, Mickelson could not help but wonder: Has it really been six years?

Six years since 1999, the year his world and, soon, golf's world would change so dramatically at Pinehurst?

"Well, it's a very emotional place," he said Tuesday.

Mickelson dropped his bags and reflected on a setting that brought back "a lot of sadness for me" but "also has a lot of joy."

The happy part was racing home from Pinehurst No. 2 to witness the birth of Child No. 1, Amanda.

The sadness was not losing the 1999 U.S. Open by one shot to Payne Stewart but, four months later, losing Stewart in a freakish plane crash.

As focused and fine-tuned as Mickelson says he is, it's all but impossible to blot out such feelings.

Mickelson was a different man six years ago.

He had not yet won his first major, or changed his first diaper.

He returns to North Carolina as a Masters champion and a three-time dad.

He turns 36 Thursday, three days before Father's Day.

That week in 1999 seems almost surreal now.

Amy, his wife, was due to give birth at any moment when Phil left her, beeper in his pocket, to compete for golf's national championship.

He was prepared to leave the moment Amy went into labor, even if it meant giving up a shot at the championship, which almost happened.

Mickelson and Stewart competed famously on Father's Day Sunday, dueling down the stretch in one of golf's most memorable finishes.

Stewart rolled in a 15-foot putt on the final hole to win by a shot, then consoled Mickelson by clutching his face and saying, "You're going to be a father!"

A day later, Mickelson returned home to witness Amanda's birth.

Interesting thing: Had Stewart missed his putt, forcing a next-day playoff, Mickelson insists he would have withdrawn because Amy, as it turned out, went into labor Monday morning.

"Yeah, I would have left," Mickelson said.

He remembers being torn in conversations with his wife.

"We were talking on the phone," he said, "talking about how she was feeling, talking about Amanda kicking and the things she was doing. It has a lot of mixed emotions for me."

Mickelson, like everyone else, is reminded of Stewart by the fist-pumping statue behind the 18th green that has now become part of Pinehurst's lore.

Mickelson said that when he saw the statue this week "a lot of memories came back."

Not all the recall is gloom.

"Having my kids come to town this week is going to be something I'm going to enjoy, because we tell the story to our daughter Amanda about her birth and how it all took place and the story about it," he said.

Mickelson thought he was going to win the 1999 U.S. Open and will be one of the favorites when play in the 105th Open starts Thursday.

He was runner-up to Tiger Woods in the 2002 Open at Bethpage Black on Long Island and finished second last year to Retief Goosen at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y.

Goosen and Mickelson were the only players to finish under par at Shinnecock, a U.S. Golf Assn. set-up so difficult, it was ridiculed by most players.

Mickelson, though, says he'd like to see Pinehurst play as tough as Shinnecock, which is possible, he adds, if the weather stays dry:

"I would love to see that happen, because it's always been my contention that if nobody can hit a green, I've got a pretty good chance." And if Mickelson wins on Father's Day, six years after Payne Stewart?

That would be one for the memory book.

*

U.S. Open

Facts and figures on the U.S. Open, which begins Thursday:

When: Thursday-Sunday.

* Where: Pinehurst, N.C.

* Course: Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, No. 2 Course (7,214 yards, par 70).

* Purse: TBA ($6.25 million in 2004). Winner's share: TBA ($1.125 million in 2004).

* Television: ESPN (Thursday-Friday, 7 a.m.-noon; 2-4 p.m.) and Channel 4 (Thursday-Friday, noon-3 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.).

RECENT CHAMPIONS

* 2004: Retief Goosen, at Shinnecock Hills (Southampton, N.Y.), four-under 276 for a two-stroke victory over Phil Mickelson.

* 2003: Jim Furyk, at Olympia Fields (Ill.), eight-under 272 for a three-stroke victory over Stephen Leaney

* 2002: Tiger Woods, at Bethpage (Farmingdale, N.Y.), three-under 277 for a three-stroke victory over Phil Mickelson.

* 2001: Retief Goosen, at Southern Hills (Tulsa, Okla.), four-under 276, won by two strokes in a playoff with Mark Brooks.

* 2000: Tiger Woods, at Pebble Beach, 12-under 272 for a 15-stroke victory over Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

* 1999: Payne Stewart, at Pinehurst , one-under 279 for a one-stroke victory over Phil Mickelson.

* 1998: Lee Janzen, at the Olympic Club (San Francisco), one-over 281 for a one-stroke victory over Payne Stewart.

FIRST- AND SECOND-ROUND TEE TIMES, D12

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