Indeed, Mickelson followed his opening 68 with a bogeyless 66 to surge into the lead. He was still atop the leader board late in the third round, but Goosen reeled him in, birdieing the 15th and 16th holes while a tired-looking Mickelson staggered home bogey-bogey.
Goosen's rock-solid 69 on Saturday was largely lost in the howls of protest engulfing Shinnecock Hills. The monied class of Long Island has changed radically—J. Gats-by has given way to P. Diddy—but Shinnecock remains timeless. The site of the second U.S. Open, in 1896, the course still checks in at under 7,000 yards to a par of 70. What makes it one of the most exacting tests in championship golf are its tiny sloped greens, 164 bunkers, ball-gobbling fescue and a steady breeze off the Atlantic. But in setting up the course for this year's Open, the USGA forgot one thing: Just add water. Overcast, windless conditions and a Thursday-evening shower made Shinnecock playable for the first two rounds, but on a sunny, windy Saturday the USGA began to lose the greens. By the time the last group teed off at 2:50 p.m., the crusty, baked putting surfaces "looked like someone took a Bunsen burner to them," according to Smith. The shrillest criticism was reserved for the 7th hole, a 189-yard par-3 with a green that slopes severely from front to back. On Saturday only 18 of the 66 competitors were able to hold the green with their tee shots, and so many players had chips roll back to their feet, it looked like a Skeeball competition. The average score was 3.49, and the carnage included Mickelson's double bogey, which began with an eight-iron that rolled off the back of the green. After a delicate chip his 10-foot par putt trickled by the hole, wavered, wiggled, just about stopped, started up again, then meandered 20 feet past. He missed the comebacker. Asked later if the hole was fair, Mickelson shot back, "What do you think?"
Els answered the question more directly: "This isn't golf. It's crazy."
Whining about the setup is the soundtrack to most U.S. Opens, but when Sunday arrived with a bright blue sky and the strongest winds of the tournament, Shinnecock's burned-out greens crossed the line from extremely difficult to unfair. The bloodbath began with the early starters. Billy Mayfair, a five-time winner on the PGA Tour, shot a 47 on the front nine and finished at 89. Hall of Famer Tom Kite parred the last six holes—to shoot 84. Asked to describe the fried greens, Goosen offered one word: "Dead." In the early afternoon the USGA finally decided to intermittently syringe the putting surfaces. This meant that different players faced different speeds. At day's end the average score would be 78.73 (the second highest round in Open history, .01 of a stroke behind the final round at Pebble Beach in 1972), and 28 players would shoot 80 or higher.
Amid this tempest Goosen was unflappable. When he was 17, he was struck by lightning, and he still plays as if he doesn't have a pulse. He led by three with seven holes to play, but Mickelson put together a back-nine surge that is becoming his trademark. A Goosen bogey at 14 was sandwiched by Mickelson birdies at 13 and 15, and suddenly they were tied. At the 16th Mickelson played a gorgeous third shot, feeding his pitch off a slope toward the hole. Around New York he has been the people's choice since he finished second to Tiger Woods in The People's Open in 2002 at Bethpage State Park, and Long Island fairly shook as Mickelson's ball inched to within eight feet of the cup. Mickelson rolled in the birdie putt to take his first lead of the day, at four under par.
Goosen watched Mickelson's birdie from the fairway, then coolly stuffed a wedge 12 feet below the hole, brushing in the putt as if it were a practice-round gimme. Tied again. The tournament ended at 17, a 179-yard par-3. Mickelson lost a six-iron into the front bunker but had a good lie on the uphill. It was the kind of shot playing partner Fred Funk estimated Mickelson would get up and down nine times out of 10 in normal conditions. But his explosion from the sand took a hard hop on the baked green and skittered past the hole, leaving a frightening downhill five-footer. He missed that and the comebacker, too, bringing to mind the 1999 U.S. Open, at which Mickelson three-putted on the 71st hole to open the door for Payne Stewart.
Goosen pulled his tee shot at 17 into the same bunker but saved par with an explosion to three feet and a never-in-doubt putt, preserving his two-shot lead. Happiness is three putts to win the U.S. Open, but unlike in 2001, Goosen took only two at 18 and became the 21st player to win multiple Opens. "I'm immensely proud to be on this trophy," said Goosen, "and to be on it twice is unbelievable." His Father's Day victory, which boosted him two places to No. 7 in the World Ranking, was all the sweeter because in October, Tracy is expecting twins who'll join one-year old Leo in filling family homes in Orlando and London.
Mickelson, meanwhile, will have to continue the hunt for his second major championship. "I had a great experience at Augusta," he said, "but just as thrilling as that was, it's just as disappointing to come so close at a tournament I've dreamed about since I was a kid."
At least Mickelson will head to next month's British Open knowing his game is in shape. Els was so out of sorts on Sunday that when he was heckled by some drunken yahoos on the 14th fairway, he stopped walking and gestured for them to leave the bleachers and meet him in the fairway to settle the matter. "They should come down," wife Leizl muttered. "There is a lot of frustration in that fairway."
No doubt that will be covered in Ernie's future sessions with Vanstiphout, who paced while watching Sunday's action on TV in a USGA hospitality tent. Once Els was out of contention, Vanstiphout switched allegiances, barking at the TV, "C'mon, Retief, c'mon, man!"