Stewart wins Open with clutch putts

Sunday, Jun. 20
Oh, baby! Mickelson comes so close

By Paul Newberry
Associated Press

PINEHURST, N.C. -- In a matters of weeks -- or maybe even days -- a precious little girl will enter the world, open her eyes for the first time and glance up at her father with a look of unconditional love.

 Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson has 13 career wins, but still no major.
The anticipation of that moment makes it easier for Phil Mickelson to deal with the disappointment of losing the U.S. Open.

Ready to leave at the sound of a beeper, Mickelson was able to hang around until Father's Day at Pinehurst No. 2 with his wife, Amy, back at home in Scottsdale, Ariz., awaiting the birth of their first child.

The daddy-to-be held a one-stroke lead over Payne Stewart with just three holes remaining Sunday, only to surrender the advantage with his only bogey of the round. Mickelson then watched helplessly as Stewart made a birdie at 17, then rolled in a 15-footer for par at the final hole to clinch his second U.S. Open championship.

"This is a disappointing day," Mickelson said. "But in the next couple of days we're expecting our first child, so that evens it out. I'm pretty excited about that."

Mickelson, 29, is so excited about the life-changing event that he vowed to drop his clubs and return home as soon as his wife went into labor -- even if he had a chance to win his first major title.

Amy Mickelson isn't scheduled to deliver until June 30, but a few rocky moments early in the pregnancy made the expectant father a little skittish about being several thousand miles away.

"It's not worth the tournament," Mickelson said earlier in the Open. "As important as the U.S. Open is to me and every other player in the field, this is the birth of my first child."

Mickelson was one shot behind Stewart before they teed off together in the final round. Never separated by more than two shots, they waged a stirring battle of one-upmanship through the North Carolina pines on a cool, misty day.

At No. 15, Mickelson nearly made a 40-footer for birdie, the ball spinning all the way around the cup before popping out. He tapped in for par and took the lead for the second time when Stewart missed from 5 feet to save par.

"Going into the last three holes, I felt I had it under control," Mickelson said. "All I needed was pars. I felt 1 under would be good enough to win or make a playoff at worst."

As it turned out, his math was correct. But he couldn't execute the game plan, missing a 6-footer to save par at No. 16 after making a nice chip out of the thick greenside rough. Stewart, meanwhile, made a 20-footer for par to reclaim a share of the lead.

At 17, Stewart put his tee shot within 4 feet of the cup, then Mickelson nearly matched him with a sterling drive that settled 7 feet away.

Mickelson missed. Stewart didn't.

Going to the final hole down by a stroke, a playoff seemed likely when Stewart's tee shot disappeared into the tall grass off the right side of the fairway. Mickelson's drive was straight down the middle and he put his second shot 25 feet from the flag.

Stewart laid up from the rough and chipped onto the green, leaving an uphill putt to save par. Mickelson was a little further away, with a difficult left-to-right slope to negotiate.

The left-hander's birdie putt slid just by the hole, leaving an even-par round of 70 and an even-par tournament of 280.

Mickelson moved to the edge of the green and sensed he had lost the tournament, even while Stewart was still studying his putt.

  This is a disappointing day. But in the next couple of days we're expecting our first child, so that evens it out.  ”
—  Phil Mickelson
"I thought there was a good chance he would make it," Mickelson said. "His putt was straight uphill and he could be aggressive with it."

After the ball disappeared into the cup, he walked out to shake Stewart's hand. The new champion put both hands around his dejected foe and tried to find the word's that would ease Mickelson's pain of once again failing to win a major despite his eighth top-10 finish.

"There's nothing like being a father," Stewart told Mickelson.

A few seconds earlier, Stewart couldn't afford to be sympathetic to a player who's best years are ahead of him -- both on and off the course.

"I just wasn't going to hand the trophy over to him," said Stewart, 42. "Phil is going to have an opportunity to win again. I might be on the short list."

Mickelson walked off the course and immediately called his wife, who was suffering just as much as he was. But little Amanda -- the name they have picked out for their child -- should help ease the pain.

"This," Mickelson said, "will be over tomorrow."

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