x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

New world opens up for Glover

Just as a road to riches has opened up for Lucas Glover, fellow American Phil Mickelson has been confined to a place in the record books which he would not have wished on himself.

Just as a road to riches has opened up for Lucas Glover, fellow American Phil Mickelson has been confined to a place in the record books which he would not have wished on himself. After an unlikely, but ultimately well-deserved, victory in the 109th US Open, Glover has many more opportunities ahead of him and can carry new-found confidence into the rest of the game's majors and world championship events.

He started the year at No 177 in the world rankings, and was still a lowly 71st when he arrived at Bethpage, but leapt 53 positions to 18th with a performance as tough and impressive as the notorious Black course itself. Spurred on by an army of fans, Mickelson gave everything before having to settle for a share of second place with David Duval and Ricky Barnes. His record fifth runner-up finish in the US Open takes him one ahead of four golfing greats: Sam Snead, who never did win the title, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Bobby Jones.

It could have been so much better. The world No 2 was tied for the lead with four holes left, but as we have seen so many times, he missed short putts at crucial times, from four feet at the 15th and six feet two holes later, and his chance of a fairy tale triumph was gone. At the start of the week you would have had to look very hard to find anyone who felt Glover might win. But the 29-year-old from South Carolina hit more fairways than any other player, was second in greens-in-regulation and produced some of his best golf when the pressure was at its greatest.

Most crucially, when tied for the lead with Mickelson and Duval as the last-round tension grew, Glover collected a priceless birdie at the 479-yard par four 16th while they both bogeyed the par three 17th. At one point in the third round it had seemed like a two-horse race as Barnes became only the fourth player to reach 11-under par at any stage in US Open history, with Glover three shots away and the rest of the field flagging.

With his lead slashed to one for the final onslaught, Barnes was a bundle of nerves as he faltered and the pack closed in on Glover. Tiger Woods briefly reminded us that he was still in the hunt, but birdies on the 13th and 14th could not hide the fact the real Tiger was not at Bethpage. It was a week when every aspect of his game fell short of his own standards. I'm not sure if Woods realises how much better he putts than the rest of the world's top players. At the end he was left lamenting his lack of success on the greens, but the reality is he had what was, for the average Tour player, a normal putting week.

His long game was not far off, but he never had the consistency for such a demanding course. Having said that, he finished one shot away from a tie for second. Apart from Glover's success, the main story was Duval, a former world No 1 who started the week at No 882 in the world rankings. This was the Duval of old. He played the difficult holes well, but luck was not on his side. His first hole on the final day brought a plugged lie in the bunker and led to a triple bogie. He fought back strongly and had a share of the lead after a run of three successive birdies from the 13th, but bogeyed the 17th to finish in a tie for second.

It was a roller coaster rider for Barnes, who had a lot of different swings during the week, especially when he felt the pressure, but held it together over the last five holes. Ross Fisher played beautifully from tee to green, hitting more greens-in-regulation than any other player without finding the killer finish. But the Englishman will gain a lot of confidence from his performance. As for what happened to Ernie Els, there is no short answer. He has always been a family man and in recent times has become increasingly active in his work for charity, making special efforts to raise awareness of autism after his son was diagnosed with the illness two years ago.

The family moved from Wentworth, England to Florida so his son could attend a special school, and, after working with David Leadbetter for more than 10 years and enjoying great success, Ernie switched to Butch Harmon. It was a big move, but Ernie felt it was necessary, and while his swing is improving it is still not a finished product. It's a similar story with Padraig Harrington. A lot has been said about his swing changes, although I did not see a great deal of difference and it's clear he needs to work hard on feel and club head awareness over the next three weeks if he is to have any chance of winning a third successive Open Championship at Turnberry next month.