Phil Mickelson couldn't hide his disappointment during the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Column: At Torrey Pines, Brandt Snedeker shows the U.S. Open joy that Phil Mickelson's lost

LA JOLLA, Calif. - As Phil Mickelson strolls down No. 3, a fan squeezed along the ropes screams out, "Let's get after it, Phil!" with a needy, pressing urgency. Mickelson doesn't look up, already seemingly wearing the facial expression of Droopy Dog with the third round of his dream U.S. Open just getting started.

Mickelson never appears to really want to be at Torrey Pines South on this Saturday afternoon - until, maybe, another ugly number (5-over 76) is put into the books, and he turns as jolly as Santa Claus with the media. If Santa Claus wears tired, red-splattered eyes.

You can almost see the nine on the par-5 13th - a birdie hole by Phil's own admission - coming. With little chance coming into the day, with the decision not to carry a driver in his bag the first two days of the U.S. Open likely still rattling around his over-thinking cranium like another ghost that's not going away (move over 18th at Winged Foot, you've got company!), Mickelson looks shot before he even finally hits driver on No. 1.

The big blowup number is beckoning. Phil just doesn't know when.

That it ends up being 13 just adds another cruel jab to the solar plex.

"Oh no, I've had a nine on 13 before," Mickelson says later, answering a question on whether that was an unprecedented horror at a golf course he's played hundreds of times. "I was 8 years old at the time but ..."

It's a great line, self-deprecating truth that brings laughs all around. It's why it's almost impossible not to admire how Phil conducts himself publicly in the midst of his most crushing disappointments. No matter how many stories there are rattling around out there about supposed mini tantrums in private (like a USGA honorary event a few years when Mickelson allegedly went ballistic because he showed up in a golf shirt and was told he'd have to change into a nice buttoned-down shirt and jacket for a photo).

Mickelson is imminently human, and even after he got upset, no one at that event can say he didn't eventually change and pose for the photo. That's Phil, he usually does his obligations - no matter how much he really might not want to be there.

So, he plants a smile on his face after that quadruple bogey nine and still takes on his self-appointed roll of being the ambassador of all ambassadors for his hometown.

"You know, I think this has been the best U.S. Open setup I've ever seen," Mickelson said, grinning. "Here I am at 9-over par (for the tournament) saying this. It's the finest setup I've ever seen. ... I'm so proud to be from San Diego, proud to see this golf course be such a great host to this event."

It can't be easy for a Phil Mickelson to motivate himself for a Saturday when his shot's only the longest of shots at a major. He can feel the sands in the hourglass of his career slipping away. He told everyone as much when he publicly declared this week at Torrey Pines his best chance left to win an Open.

Everyone who considers themselves a legit major contender who ends up teeing up on Saturday morning, hours and another world away from the leaders, deals with disappointment in one way or another. It's a lot easier if you're a Brandt Snedeker than a Mickelson. But it still takes major guts and an ability to turn the page to another day.

What three-time-major-winner Phil Mickelson can't do, second-year PGA Tour player Brandt Snedeker does.

Snedeker - the floppy-haired blonde best known for crying at the Masters after his Sunday blowup - definitely wants to still be at Torrey Pines. Having made the cut on the number, Snedeker attacks Torrey and tries to give himself a puncher's chance by taking every roundhouse swing he's got.

The result is one of the most wildly entertaining rounds you'll see in major golf - one eagle, four birdies, three bogeys and too many smiles to calculate. For both Snedeker and anyone who watches.

"Now that boy loves himself some golf!" a fan yells from along the 18th fairway. Snedeker just tips his cap, not the least bit offended that his 27-year-old multi-millionaire self is still being branded a kid.

Brandt Snedeker's smile shows how losing pains Phil

A smile doesn't get Snedeker the 3-under 68 that moves him to plus-4 for the tournament, within the top 20, and gives him another puncher's chance to make some real Sunday noise. A weary, pained daze doesn't hand Mickelson that nine on 13. Their wildly contrasting depositions surely reveal how different a Saturday morning at the majors can be approached, though.

Maybe Mickelson is too worn down, too beat up by all the near misses, to muster his best when the big prize is already three quarters of the way out the door. When he reaches down to hug his wife Amy when his day's done, he seems almost relieved. It's almost completely over. One more token round, and he can go off to soothe his loss wounds - again.

Snedeker can't wait to get back on the course, though. You can almost feel his golf shoes tapping in eagerness to get to Sunday even as he explains Saturday.

Part of the joy in Snedeker's Masters run came in the fact he had his family along for every step by the azaleas. They couldn't be at Torrey, though: "I tried to talk them into coming out here." His parents health still isn't great and a West Coast jaunt is a little much. His older brother Haymes has another baby on the way, and, besides, the youngest judge in Alabama can't be gone all the time.

"Unfortunately, my brother has a real job," Snedeker laughs.

It's something this golfing man, who still gets happily recognized as a joyous kid, always seems to remember.

"I tell everybody I've got a great job," he grins. "Who wouldn't want to have my job?"

"Want to trade?" a golf magazine writer quickly shoots back (boy, does the golf media ever love to tell anyone how tough they have it).

You have to wonder whether Phil Mickelson still thinks he has the best job in the world - or just an awfully painful burden. You don't see much Brandt Snedeker left in Phil. And that's sort of sad.

Whoever said pro golf gets easier when you've been through the wars, might want to take another look at Droopy Dog walking his dream course.

June 15, 2008

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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