FARMINGDALE, New York (Reuters) - Former major winners Phil Mickelson and David Duval provided the late spark and champion Lucas Glover nerves of steel but the 109th U.S. Open will primarily be remembered for Mother Nature.
When Glover sealed a surprise two-shot victory with steady pars on the last two holes at Bethpage Black Monday, there was a collective sigh of relief that the seemingly interminable event had at last ended.
Not since 1983 had the U.S. Open spilled over into a fifth day without requiring a playoff. For much of last week it seemed the 2009 edition was capable of going into a sixth and possibly seventh day in the face of bleak forecasts.
Persistent rain on Long Island over the last six weeks had saturated the par-70 Bethpage layout and with just 3- hours of golf possible on the scheduled opening day, the year’s second major was thrown into disarray.
Rounds and days merged into a dizzying haze as the tournament’s organizers and Bethpage’s groundskeepers worked feverishly to play catch-up.
The players were hurled on to a roller-coaster of late finishes, early starts and occasional mudballs while the fans, turning out in impressive numbers, had to negotiate quagmires out on the course along with heavy downpours.
“We couldn’t even remember what day we were playing,” said world number one and defending champion Tiger Woods, who tied for sixth after playing in the tougher half of the draw at Bethpage. “It just all blurs together.”
Britain’s flamboyantly dressed Ian Poulter, who kept his supporters up-to-date with regular postings on twitter throughout the tournament, wrote: “It was the strangest week ever. Flippers and snorkel required.”
Thankfully the weather Sunday did not pan out as badly as had been forecast and the tournament limped into round four before Monday’s final action unfolded.
While the 2009 U.S. Open will most certainly not rank as one of the classics, there were enough compelling storylines to make it a worthy one.
PGA Tour rookie Ricky Barnes, who qualified for the event along with Duval and Glover in Columbus, Ohio, set a U.S. Open record of eight-under-par 132 to lead by one shot after 36 holes.
He then became only the fourth player to reach double digits under par at the event in the third round before finally succumbing to nerves and sliding back into a tie for second.
Crowd favorite Mickelson received standing ovations all week from boisterous galleries as he competed in his first major since his wife Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The American world number two came close to delivering a U.S. Open victory high on emotion when he spectacularly eagled the par-five 13th to tie Glover for the lead at four under.
However, Mickelson’s late charge fizzled out as he bogeyed 15 and 17 and he had to settle for an unprecedented fifth runner-up spot at the major he is so desperate to win.
Former world number one Duval, golf’s forgotten man over the last eight years as his ranking plummeted, also thrilled the New York fans with a major blast from the past.
After opening with a three-under-par 67, he stayed in the title hunt all week before charging into a share of the lead in the final round with three consecutive birdies from the 14th.
Like Mickelson, though, he faltered, a bogey at the par-three 17th effectively ending his challenge.
Glover, despite having triumphed just once before on the PGA Tour, produced vintage U.S. Open winning form. On a tricky day of blustery winds and drying conditions at Bethpage, he gritted his way to the finish line.
A six-foot putt at the 16th earned him his only birdie of the round and he safely parred the last two holes to preserve his two-shot cushion.
Glover’s name will now follow the likes of Woods, Ernie Els and Jack Nicklaus as a U.S. Open champion, although he may well take a little while before he is comfortable in such company.
“I hope I don’t downgrade it or anything with my name on there,” he said. “It’s an honor, and I‘m just excited and happy as I can be to be on here.”
Editing by John O'Brien