By Richard Animam
When Lucas Glover won hisÂ Â first Tour event at Disney inÂ Â Â 2005, he was the game’s hot new thing.
He looked likely to make the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup team. He was a star. Everybody loved him. And then they didn’t.
No more victories followed, and Glover, now 29, found himself written off. By last September, after finishing tied for 13th at the BMW Championship in St. Louis, he’d had it. Knowing his Tour card was secure for 2009, Glover walked away from the game.
“It was the best thing career-wise I’ve ever done,” said Glover, who returned to the Tour refreshed and refocused in 2009, and won the rain-delayed U.S. Open with a three-over-par 73 (four-under total) at Bethpage Black on Monday.
“I was not playing well enough to keep playing and feel like I could be happy on the golf course,” Glover added. “I was taking it home and I wasn’t myself.”
Not a year later, Glover is taking home one of the most coveted trophies in golf.
He won by two over a threesome that included a resurgent David Duval (71), sentimental favorite Phil Mickelson (70) and the suddenly wild 54-hole leader Ricky Barnes, who rallied somewhat after stumbling with a front-nine 40 to card a 76.
“I put myself in a great position to close it out,” Mickelson said, but as with so many other U.S. Opens, he couldn’t get it done.
After making a rousing eagle on the par-5 13th hole, he was at four under for the tournament, seemingly headed for an emotional triumph. His wife, Amy, is about to begin treatment for breast cancer, and an Open trophy is one of the few not already on Phil’s mantle.
But a victory in the year’s second major will have to wait at least another year after he made two bogeys on the final four holes, three-putting from the back fringe on the par-4 15th hole and failing to get up-and-down on the par-3 17th.
Monday marked his fifth runner-up finish in the U.S. Open, but not his most painful.
“I think maybe it’s more in perspective for me,” he said. “There’s some more important stuff going on.”
Mickelson planned to take his wife and three kids on a much-needed vacation, starting Tuesday, before Amy begins treatment. He may not return to the Tour until August, he said last week.
Duval, too, looked like he was on course to win this Open after making three straight back-nine birdies to bounce back from a front-nine triple-bogey and get to three under overall.
But he, too, bogeyed 17, from almost the exact same spot as Mickelson. Duval’s short par putt dipped into the hole, did a horseshoe and came back at him.
This after his tee shot nestled under the lip of a greenside bunker on the par-3 third hole, leading to a triple-bogey.
“I’m happy with how I played, but extremely disappointed,” Duval said after registering his first top-10 anywhere since 2002. “I came here with no doubt in my mind I would win.”
Tiger Woods shot a one-under 69 and finished tied for sixth with Hunter Mahan (72) and Soren Hansen (69), four shots back at even par.
Glover overcame his doubts in part by switching to a new putter last fall, addressing the weakest part of his game. He preached the value of patience this week and practiced it after he double-bogeyed his first hole of the tournament.
“I didn’t slam a club,” he said, “didn’t do anything. Walked over to the second tee and said, ‘Hey, it’s the U.S. Open. It’s going to be a long week.'”
That turned out to be an understatement. Rain cancelled play after three hours and 16 minutes Thursday, sending officials scrambling to sop up water and get 156 players through 36 holes.
The cut didn’t come until Saturday, trimming the field to a manageable 60 players â€” the USGA’s first break of the week.
Still, this was the rare major that asked not “who will win?” but “when will it end?” Seldom did players finish their day on the 18th or even 9th hole, often getting stranded in some far off corner of the course when the horn blew because of darkness, rain or both.
The 29-year-old came into the week in 26th place in the FedEx Cup standings thanks mainly to top-three finishes at the Buick Invitational and the Quail Hollow Championship.
But he only had one career victory on his resume – a poor return for a player who has always been rated highly but has failed to close out tournaments in the past.
However, he was delighted to retain his composure under pressure at Bethpage.
“It was a test of patience for sure. It was tough. I was very pleased to get in where I was,” Glover said. “I’m excited and happy I hung in there.”
He picked up his first birdie of the day at the 16th give him a two-shot cushion, and he admitted it was the turning point.”That was huge. To get one close and sneak it in was pretty good momentum,” he added. “Two pars at the end was pretty tough but I managed to do it.