The crowd was all he had as he played out the final string of holes in leaderboard irrelevance. Phil Mickelson’s golf made zero impact on the U.S. Open. That’s about what was expected, given Mickelson has played hardly any competitive golf this year, and has not been especially competitive in the golf he has played since that out-of-nowhere PGA Championship last May.

The scores on Friday did not matter—whether Phil made a bogey here or a birdie there would not impact his sealed fate, a missed cut. But it was not a purposeless walk. Mickelson played to the fans all the way to the end, thumbs-upping from the bottom of the basement stairs at +11. He would use his remaining time to continue to play the crowd, which embraced him during this truncated week in Boston. They shouted his first name over and over, for him to show his calves, which is somehow less creative and more cliché than just saying his first name at this point, and to “liv it up.” It was impressive in number and devotion and a reminder of his appeal beyond the bubble of critiques that have flowed his way this year. After bombing in a 57-foot putt for his third and final birdie in his 36 holes at this U.S. Open, Mickelson stopped on the walk from the sixth green to seventh tee to engage a young fan. The golf had almost become ancillary, as he broke stride and focus in the middle of a major championship as if it were a practice round.

But Phil’s golf, certainly at that point, mattered less and the performance for the people more. Using the word “regret” seems facile and extreme, but I’ve considered often this week, especially after seeing his lobotomized press conference on Monday, if he stops and wonders how it got this far. Maybe he’s exactly where he expected he would be at this point in his career and at this point in his more recent battle with the PGA Tour. He used the word “leverage” in that interview with Alan Shipnuck, the one that’s become a foundational element of this wild, weird schism. Perhaps there’s a daze that this is his reality now, and the crowd adulation could be a salve. His interest in leverage makes me wonder if he ever wanted things to get to this point. Was this a loaded gun he didn’t actually want to use but went off and now he’s irreservisbly on the run?

It’s unclear if Mickelson, who is now 52, will actually compete at a high level anymore, wherever and against whomever that may be. His presence will be there and he’ll be making swings, but will it be competition? The fans will continue to follow—well, at least when they’re there. As he rode away in a cart with his 78-73 whimper, one fan shouted, “We’ll see you in a couple months!” As we start to navigate this new world of pro golf, it took a minute to remember what that reference meant. The Open? A charity event? Oh, right, LIV Golf has an event in September about 45 miles outside downtown Boston at The International, which one local aficionado described to me on Thursday as “an awful golf course.” Perhaps his golf will be better by then, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll have anywhere close to the crowds to please that he got this week. So if his golf is middling, and the atmosphere not comparable, what will he be playing for? Ah, right.

A few other observations from the ground…

Paulina Production: Dustin Johnson’s spouse was out there following him, for at least one hole, with a camera and sound crew chasing along. I snooped around with some Netflix folks, who offered a no comment. So unless the USGA or Golf Channel have some forthcoming Paulina production, don’t be surprised if her insights show up in the forthcoming to-be-named Netflix golf show.

They had us in the first half: You know how an FCS team getting 36 points on the road can get frisky early with some SEC power, maybe get a special teams touchdown in the first quarter to go up double digits… that was the MJ Daffue experience on Friday at the U.S. Open.

Drawing dead: Shane Lowry, one of the trendy favorites this week because of his form and a skillset suited to the course, became far less appealing with, to put it bluntly, a shit draw. Lowry got thrown into the Phil circus and had another non-competitive LIV commit to round out the three-ball in Louis Oosthuizen, who was due for a letdown after captaining his Stingers to the big win last week. Phil and Louis were walking and chatting together—presumably about team strategy and construction for Portland—while Lowry was sweating out the cut line midday on a hot Friday in Boston.

That’s all for now, more notes to follow from Andy and me once we recover from the mental scars of these Law & Order SVU scenes…