As the curtain gets ready to rise on next week’s PGA Championship, host Bethpage Black marks 10 years since it last stood in golf’s major-championship spotlight.
That would be the 2009 U.S. Open, best remembered for … buckets and buckets of rain.
The muddy Monday finish might have been more memorable had Phil Mickelson finally thrown off his U.S. Open jinx – days before his wife was set to undergo surgery for breast cancer. He held a share of the lead with four holes left, but wobbled.
It also could have been an improbable second major for David Duval, his world ranking wallowing at No. 882 when he teed it up at Bethpage eight years after his British Open triumph. Duval stood two holes from a glimpse at victory before he stumbled.
History got Lucas Glover, hat pulled low and quick with a self-effacing quip. “I hope I don't downgrade it or anything with my name on there,” he said after accepting the trophy.
Glover was, and is, a fine enough player. So is Stewart Cink, though he’ll forever be pinned with unwriting 59-year-old Tom Watson’s storybook bid for the ages a month later at Turnberry.
Hey, sometimes in sports the best storylines never make it to the front page, left half-written in a laptop as results dictate otherwise. But 2009 seems to have been particularly afflicted.
Kenny Perry could have displaced Jack Nicklaus as the oldest Masters champion; Angel Cabrera won a three-way playoff. Tiger Woods was a near-lock to finish off a 15th major title; he blinked in a duel with Y.E. Yang.
On all four occasions, fans were left with something of a hollow feeling. Call it the Year of Unrequited Sundays (and a Monday).
“I’ll just say I never thought of it like that,” NBC analyst Paul Azinger said when the idea was broached. “But you’re right. It was always the underdog, the unheralded guy, who stamped their name in the history book.”
Some events simply end up better known for who didn’t win than who did. The 1968 Masters. Carnoustie in 1990. Winged Foot in 2006. Augusta again in 2016. Rare – and somewhat cruel – is the year when all four majors fall into that category.
Fortunately, we already know that 2019 won’t be one of those years. Woods’ triumph at last month’s Masters makes sure of that.
Turning back the clock on four tales of woe…
Masters: Perry’s demise
One of the PGA Tour’s most likable guys, Perry was enjoying a late-40s renaissance during which he had won four times in the previous 11 months. Four months shy of his 49th birthday, he not only would eclipse Nicklaus as the oldest Masters champion but surpass Julius Boros (1968 PGA) as the oldest winner of any major. Adding to the narrative, Perry’s mom was battling cancer.
A near-ace at Augusta National’s 16th hole gave Perry a two-shot lead with two holes left, virtually one arm in a green jacket. He’d gone 22 holes without a bogey. And then he couldn’t avoid them.
Perry bogeyed his last two holes of regulation, driving into a bunker at No. 18 when par would have secured victory. That left him facing sudden death against Cabrera, the 2007 U.S. Open champion, and Chad Campbell.
Perry parred the replay at No. 18, only to see Cabrera match it despite driving into the trees and getting a lucky carom off a pine that kicked his approach into the short grass. Campbell was eliminated with a bogey.
Moving to Augusta National’s 10th, Perry missed the green badly to the left and made his third bogey in four holes. Cabrera won with a routine par.
“Great players make it happen, and your average players don’t,” Perry lamented. “And so that’s the way it is. I just didn’t get the job done again, and I’ll look back the rest of my life saying what could have been.”
U.S. Open: A double damper
Three years after his stunning collapse at Winged Foot, Mickelson was back in New York with far greater worry on his mind. His wife, Amy, had been diagnosed with breast cancer five weeks earlier and was set for surgery days after the Open.
With an estimated 4 inches of rain falling on Bethpage, a stop-and-start week saw no round finish on the same day that it began. Ricky Barnes was the unlikely 54-hole leader, though he ran out of steam with a front-nine 40.
That opened the door for Mickelson, who began the final round six shots back. A 35-foot birdie at No. 12 was followed by an eagle at the par-5 13th to suddenly lift him into a share of the lead.
Then came the slide – a missed 3-foot par save at No. 15, followed by an 8-foot par miss two holes later. He wound up shooting 70.
“Certainly I’m disappointed,” Mickelson said, “but now that it’s over, I’ve got more important things going on. Oh, well.”
Duval, meanwhile, recovered from a triple bogey early in his round to reel off three straight birdies that left him tied for the lead. His quest also ended at No. 17 when a 5-foot par save caught the back of the lip and spun out.
Glover made only one birdie on Monday – breaking the last tie with a 6-foot birdie putt at No. 16. Two pars left him with a two-shot triumph despite a closing 73. Mickelson, Duval and Barnes all shared second.
For Mickelson, it was his fifth runner-up result at an Open. Duval’s finish was his best since his 2001 triumph at Royal Lytham.
British Open: Shattered fairytale
Just seven weeks shy of turning 60, Watson opened with a 65 and lurked just off the pace until two late birdies Saturday thrust him into the 54-hole lead. Suddenly, thoughts of a turn-the-clock-on-its-head Sunday weren’t all that farfetched.
Watson, already a five-time Open champion who had a hip replacement, was 11 years older than Boros when he won the 1968 PGA. Watson was seven years older than Sam Snead when he became the PGA Tour’s oldest winner, at age 52.
Watson darn near pulled it off. Almost.
Back-to-back bogeys by Lee Westwood left Watson alone in front with two holes to play, and a birdie at Turnberry’s 17th kept him there as Westwood also birdied. All Watson needed was a par at No. 18.
After finding the fairway, Watson initially thought to hit 9-iron for his approach, but he reconsidered. Hitting 8-iron instead, Watson watched his ball roll up to the pin and keep going – just off the back of the putting surface. His lag putt was too strong, too, rolling 10 feet past the hole.
Waiting in the clubhouse was Cink, who had birdied the 18th and headed back for a playoff when Watson’s par attempt came up short.
By then, Watson was spent. He played the four-hole aggregate playoff in bogey, par, double bogey, bogey. Cink played it six shots better.
“It would have been a hell of a story,” Watson told assembled media afterward. “It wasn't to be, and yes, it's a great disappointment. It tears at your gut.”
PGA Championship: The unthinkable
Woods, everyone knew, was 14-for-14 bulletproof when taking a lead into the final round of a major championship. He hadn’t blown a two-shot advantage on the final day – major or not, anywhere – in nine years.
Woods had won the PGA Championship in each of his previous two attempts, too, missing the 2008 edition while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery. Make sure the engraver shows up early.
Not so fast.
Buoyed by a chip-in at No. 14, Yang stared down Woods over the final four holes at breezy Hazeltine National for one of the biggest upsets in golf annals.
“Tiger’s good, but he could always have a bad day,” Yang, 37, said afterward. “Guess this is one of those days.”
Woods missed a trio of birdie putts of no longer than 10 feet on the back nine, also chunking a 3-wood while going for the green in two at the par-5 15th. Yang maintained his one-shot advantage to the 18th, where a hybrid 3-iron settled 12 feet from the pin for a clinching birdie.
Woods played his final seven holes in 2 over.
“I did everything I needed to do,” he said, “except for getting the ball in the hole.”
What nobody could foresee was that Woods would largely disappear from the Sunday major spotlight after that. By December, Yang was a footnote as Woods was engulfed in a sex scandal, and it wasn’t until 2011 that he was a back-nine contender at another major.
We know the later chapters of that story, too. Serendipitously, it’s why 2019 can’t be anything like 2009.
Jeff Shain has been writing and podcasting about golf since 2000, including more than a dozen years at The Miami Herald and Orlando Sentinel. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @jeffshain