"But this one," Micheel said Saturday after shooting a 5-under-par 65 in the third round of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands, "this is for my mom."
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"I think I want to leave it at that," he said. "It's special knowing I'm only the second one in history to do it. Maybe the stars are lining up for me, I don't know, maybe to pull something off, get a victory in the near future and do something great for Mom."
Donna Micheel, whose 64th birthday is Friday, is in the final stage of cancer, which has spread from her lungs to her liver and her spine and her brain.
Her son, tied for 13th at 8 under par entering the final round of the Travelers today, makes no attempt to hide his emotions. He feels guilty being out here at the PGA Tour event. Yet he is consoled, too, knowing he is playing for someone else and not consumed with selfish thoughts. At the U.S. Open last week, he had talked openly about the philosophical questions that haunt all of us, wondering if it is better to pass quickly, or to linger on, about his fears for his mom, for his own mortality, wondering how he will explain this all to his two young children.
"It is good for me to talk about it," Micheel said. "I'm an emotional person. It's therapeutic."
There is a quiet dignity in Micheel's soft Southern drawl. Ranked 169th in the world, he had come out of nowhere in August 2003 to stun the golf world in the PGA Championship. He has not won since. He would scream it to the world if he thought he could make a second title happen. Eight strokes off Justin Rose's lead, it's not going to happen today, but he, Rose and Brendon de Jonge do have the best combined score of 130 in Rounds 2 and 3. And it's no stretch to say he could finish anywhere from third to 25th at the Travelers.
"I quietly dedicated a win to my mom in Memphis a few weeks ago," said Micheel, who finished tied for fourth at the St. Jude Classic in his hometown. "But, man, that's a lot of pressure to put on yourself. Even if you told Tiger Woods he was going to dedicate a win to his dad, only one guy gets to win."
Micheel and his wife, Stephanie, had grown up near the fourth hole at the Colonial Country Club, where they used to play the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic, but TPC Southwind is only about 10 miles from where he lives.
"It was just too hot for my mom to come out, but if I had been leading the last few holes, my dad was going to drive home and get her," Micheel said. "I just remember Len Mattiace's mom coming [at the 1998 Players Championship]. He had a couple of bad breaks on the 17th [a quintuple bogey]. She passed way soon after that.
"It's tough playing at home, with a lot of friends and family out there. I wanted to win for her, but I think she was just as happy I played well. It was the best I'd done there."
Micheel had had won $1.6 million in 2006 and nearly $1 million in 2007, but he tore up a shoulder, underwent surgery and it has been a long struggle. His only status on the tour is as a past champion. Yet after his fourth at Memphis, 22nd in the Open and looking at another strong finish he is amazed at how well he is doing in the midst of a trying time.
"I take a lot of consolation in that my mom wants me out here," he said. "Jonathan Byrd lost his dad last year, Kenny Perry his mom. People out here are very encouraging, very compassionate. To be able to play for her has had a calming effect on me."
Micheel had found out about his mom's cancer in April 2009. He was walking off the putting green on Friday at the Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head when his sister called.
"It nearly floored me," he said. "When I found out my mom's prognosis was already dire. When they did an MRI and PET scan, they already found it in her liver. She had a cough. She was a smoker. She thought it was emphysema.
It was much worse. She was given nine months to a year. Yet Donna was OK to go to Hawaii in February. Mother's Day would not be nearly so kind. She was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. It was neutropenia, a dangerously low white blood cell count. Donna battled back. She spent her 42nd wedding anniversary earlier this month in chemo. There will be more this week.
"My sister [Shannon] lives in Eugene, and one of the last things my mom wants to do is go to Oregon for a while," said Micheel, who talks to Donna every day. "There's just no way. That just breaks my heart. I'm going home after the John Deere [July 11]. I want to take her to Florida, just let her sit on the beach and listen to the ocean."
Micheel's eyes began to water. After a 72 on Thursday, he had bought an airline ticket home. He thought he would miss the cut. Then he shot a 65, another 65, now he's looking at the leader board today.
And for Donna Micheel, that will be even better news.