PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- On the major venue that produces only Hall of Famers, three such players were just a part of the hack parade on a brutal final day at Pebble Beach.
Ernie, Phil and the guy chasing Jack played more like Manny, Moe and Jack on Sunday when it counted. With 21 major championships among them, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods collectively didn't have what it took to keep Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell out of the majors champions club.
They did it with a display of clutch golf that was so unremarkable (73, 73 and 75) it hardly befitted their rank -- which is Nos. 1, 2 and 6 in the world.
And that none of them could take advantage of an instantaneous implosion by overnight leader Dustin Johnson made it all the more head-scratching.
"The first seven holes, boy, you could have made up some ground," said Mickelson, who followed a birdie on the first with eight consecutive pars.
The one kicking himself the most is Els. After a quick start got him a share of the lead with birdies on 2, 4 and 6, Els chopped up the 9th, 10th and 11th holes in 4-over and missed short birdie putts of 15 and 18 to finish two shots behind McDowell's winning mark of level par.
Els was once again so traumatized by the latest missed opportunity in a major that he walked off without comment.
"That was a gutted, I-can't-really-say-anything walk," said Chubby Chandler, his agent.
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Mickelson -- a five-time runner-up in the U.S. Open since 1999 -- once again let a national championship slip from his grasp. He missed relatively short birdie putts on 2 and 3, three-putted for par on 4 and failed to take advantage of the par-5 sixth. Three bogeys on the back destroyed his chances of getting halfway to a grand slam.
"I had a 15-foot eagle putt on 4, and I make par -- that was frustrating," Mickelson said. "I have a 5-iron into 6, and I make par -- that was frustrating. But at the turn, I was still under for my round, even par for the tournament, which was the ultimately the winning score. All I had to do was shoot even par in the back, and I'm in a playoff. I wasn't able to do it, obviously, it was tough."
Then there was Woods. The world's No. 1 golfer looked primed to resume his once indomitable presence on the major stages after a charging 66 on Saturday put him in red figures and on the heels of two untested leaders.
But Woods once again threw shots away on the easiest holes, making bogey at 1, 4 and 6 -- driving himself off the cliff on the latter. In spite of himself, two more ugly bogeys at 10 and 12 left him no chance to claim a fourth U.S. Open.
"It's disappointing because I started off so poorly again and left myself above the hole," Woods said. "Every putt I missed was from above the hole. I made three mental mistakes today and it cost us a chance to win the U.S. Open."
It really has become a habit of sorts in recent years for the superstars to yield the stage to journeymen in what is considered the toughest championship in the world to win.
|It was that kind of a Sunday for Tiger Woods, who suffers six bogeys during his final-round 75. (AP)|
If Woods doesn't make a 12-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines in 2008, Rocco Mediate is a U.S. Open winner.
Now once again on a course that gave us defining moments -- Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Tiger -- the big names frittered it away and let McDowell hoist the trophy despite four bogeys in his last 10 holes.
"As soon as Dustin made a triple, it was a wide-open tournament," Mickelson said. "Many guys had a chance. And it made for kind of an exciting U.S. Open, I thought."
History generally prefers the excitement of Watson chipping in on 17, Nicklaus lasering a 1-iron on 17, Kite chipping in on 7 or Woods dominating like nobody ever before or since.
These greats weren't up to the task this time around. It illustrates why the U.S. Open is the hardest test in golf.
"It really is," Watson said. "Everything is on the line. The pressure's as high as it's going to get and you're playing a very, very difficult golf course. Can you handle it? Can you handle it? I mean I've been in positions, and I couldn't handle it. Fortunately, I was in the position one time when I could handle it. It's what we're out here for."
The greatest golfers in the hunt simply couldn't handle it on Sunday, and Pebble Beach's Hall of Fame streak and mystique came to an end.