How ’bout getting back to winning?
Tiger Woods sent Darren Clarke a series of text messages the night before the Northern Irishman’s improbable Open championship victory.
“He was giving me a couple of bits of advice, which was brilliant,” Clarke said of his old friend, who was back in Florida nursing leg injuries.
“Just getting little bits of advice and stuff like that made today even a little bit easier than what it otherwise might have been.”
Woods, maybe the greatest closer in golf history and holder of 14 major championships, needs to start passing on advice to his compatriots because they clearly need it, as sadly witnessed by Sunday’s capitulation on the tempestuous Sandwich coast.
Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler all should have at least made Clarke sweat bullets as he came down the stretch at Royal St George’s trying to secure his first major.
Instead they fired bullets into their own feet.
As a result, this became the sixth straight major without an American winner.
The US hasn’t had a drought this long since the advent of the Masters in 1934.
All time, Americans have won 253 majors and everyone else has now moved up to 163.
Sounds dominating, but recent history shows otherwise. With Clarke’s triumph Sunday, the island of Ireland, with a total population of about six million, has now won six of the past 17 majors.
In that span, South Africa has won three and the US only five. Two of the American wins have come from Woods, who finds himself at a career crossroads.
It’s easy to shrug it off and say it’s no big deal and it’s just cyclical, as the American players have largely done, but let’s ask this question: Which of them is going to have the constitution in the cauldron of the back nine on Sunday afternoon to win a major?
Phil can win them when he’s in the mood.
Otherwise, he’s happy to just have “fun,” a word he used about a dozen times Sunday to describe his final round.
“Oh, man,” he said, his eyes widening like they do. “That was some of the most fun I’ve had competitively.”
What is this, a theme park, Phil?
I’m not sure Ben Hogan would’ve had “fun” coming in with four bogeys on the back nine — to lose by three — with a major on the line. Or Jack Nicklaus. Or Woods.
That’s the maddening thing about Mickelson: He has the talent in his 40s to dominate golf. But he’s flawed.
He began his final round Sunday on the periphery at even par, but 10 magical holes later, he was at 6 under par and one shot behind Clarke.
Then came one of those moments that have haunted Mickelson throughout his career.
He missed a short putt. An embarrassingly short putt.
“The putt at 11 was just a stupid mistake,” he said later. “There was nothing to it. It was just a dumb mental error. I just lost focus there, and it hurts to throw shots away like that when I’m behind.”
It hurt so much he did it again, three more times, with a Claret Jug on the line.
Johnson, meanwhile, is starting to earn himself a reputation.
After Mickelson began falling back, the challenge of catching Clarke fell to the big-hitting South Carolinian, who was alongside Clarke in the final pairing.
On the par-5 14th, Johnson half-shanked a long iron layup and it squirted out of bounds.
It was a genuinely jaw-dropping moment: Did he just really do that?
Three times in the past five majors Johnson has been in the final pairing, and it’s not working out so well.
First there was Pebble Beach, where he was overcome by the moment and shot 83, then the PGA, where he grounded his club in a bunker on the final hole, costing himself a shot at the title. And now this.
“Dustin doesn’t really think about a whole lot,” Fowler said when asked whether Sunday would haunt his friend.
“I don’t think he’s going to be too worried about it.
“I wouldn’t worry about Dustin, he’ll be fine.”
And what of Fowler?
He played the round of the day on Saturday, in the worst of the weather, and raised hopes that his first career win would be a major.
But on Sunday there was no magic in that orange wardrobe.
He made six pars in a row when he came to the par-5 seventh, a downwind hole on which virtually everyone was making eagle or, at least, birdie.
Fowler was two shots behind Clarke. He needed to be bold. Instead, his first putt, from off the green, came up about 12 feet short. He missed the next one, too.
But he wasn’t taking it too hard.
“All in all, it was a fun week,” he said.
And maybe that’s the point.
Maybe it’s time to stop having so much fun and start winning majors again.