"Let's just stick to minus 2 for the championship," Barnes quipped after a USGA volunteer noted that Barnes shot a 6-over 76 on Monday to finish at 2 under.
The 2002 U.S. Amateur champion tied for second - two strokes behind playing partner Lucas Glover - after breaking the 36-hole Open scoring record and taking a six-stroke lead at 11 under during the third round.
"Was I stoked with what I shot today? No. But was I happy with the last six holes? Yes," said Barnes, who birdied the par-5 13th and closed with five pars at water-logged Bethpage Black.
He also earned $559,830 and spots in the British Open and 2010 Masters and U.S. Open - huge perks for a player who spent the last four full seasons on the Nationwide Tour and made only six cuts and $68,667 in 12 events on the PGA Tour this year. He went into the Open No. 519 in the world and left at No. 153.
"It was a great week," said Barnes, who opened with rounds of 67, 65 and 70. "If you told me I would have been 2 under, if you would have told me I was second, bridesmaid isn't too bad. But when you know you're right there, it's a tough one to swallow. But I would say a lot, lot more good came out of this week than bad."
Tied with Glover at 7 under after bogeying No. 1 on Sunday night before play was suspended because of darkness, Barnes made four straight bogeys in a front-nine 40 and also dropped strokes on consecutive holes early on the back nine.
"I don't know if I made that many mental club errors or if I would have played it differently," said Barnes, only the fourth player in U.S. Open history to reach double digits under par and the third to fail to hold it. "I just needed to hit better shots."
After hitting fairway after fairway in the first 2½ rounds, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound slugger watched his drives soar well left on many holes, leaving him shaking his head and trying to figure out how to play out of knee-high grass. With his timing a fraction off, his unique lunge through the ball looked more awkward than quirky.
"I think if you don't take something out of even really good rounds and really bad rounds, then you're probably not suited for the game," he said. "You probably learn more when you play bad than when you actually play good, because when you play good, nothing bothers you."
After hitting his final shot Sunday night into the deep left rough on No. 2, he got off to a great start Monday morning, slashing the ball out of the hay and getting up and down for par from the front of the green.
"I think it settled me down, but we waited about 20 minutes on the next hole," Barnes said. "Two groups still had to tee off."
He parred No. 3, then missed a good scoring opportunity on the 517-yard, par-5 fourth when his second shot went over the green and settled into a bad lie.
"I don't think too many people hit two shots over the green on 4," Barnes said. "So that might have been a little unlucky.
"And then I didn't settle down. I hit the fairway on 5. Caught a mud ball in the hay and got on that train for about four or five holes."
What was he thinking after boarding the bogey train?
"You don't want to know," he said, smiling.
He rebounded to salvage the second-place tie, and had an outside chance to force a playoff - or, at least, put some pressure on Glover - with a birdie on 18.
"The putt almost defied gravity on the last hole," said Barnes, who would have earned an extra $250,170 for solo second if the putt had fallen.
"If you're playing for the money, don't play."