The devastation that Merion Golf Club (par 70) inflicted on golf’s elite can be summed up as follows: Tiger Woods +13, Padraig Harrington +11, Webb Simpson +13, Bubba Watson +13 and Adam Scott +15.
These are the finishing scores of major championship winners from the 113th US Open that concluded last Sunday.
The look of dismay, dejection and demoralization was abundant on player’s faces at Merion all week. How did a course considered short by major championship standards inflict such injury to the psyche of so many great champions?
The answer lies in the fact that Merion’s narrow fairways were protected by menacing rough that swallowed errant shots rendering balls almost unplayable. When the dust settled only 16 of 73 of the world’s so called “best players” were able to maintain a score in single digits over par after play concluded on Sunday.
From the ashes that were Merion, a champion did ultimately arise in the form of 32 year old Englishman Justin Rose.
With a score of one over par (+1) after Sunday’s final round, Rose, as he put it himself, “was the last man standing”. This was just enough for him to claim the US Open Championship, the year’s 2nd major, ahead of American Phil Mickelson and Australia’s Jason Day who both finished tied for 2nd at 3 over par.
After the 1st round on Thursday, Mickelson took the lead with a sturdy 3 under par 67 on a wet Merion after days of rain.
“We were having a hard time scoring low here. It’s so demanding. It’s such a great track,” Mickelson said.
Never able to win the US Open, Mickelson had finished 2nd, five times in the past. Rose of England shot a 1 over par 71 during the opening round and was 4 strokes back. Tiger Woods was 6 strokes behind Mickelson at 3 over par after the 1st round but faded as the tournament progressed.
By the end of the 2nd round, after a 2 over par 72, Mickelson’s long sought quest was only two rounds away as he was still clinging on to the lead at 1 under par. Joining Mickelson for the lead was fellow American Billy Horschel who shot a splendid 3 under par to follow up his 2 over par 1st round.
They were being pursued by the trio of Rose, Luke Donald and American Steve Stricker at even par only 1 stroke behind. More excellent play from Mickelson kept him at the top of the leader board after the 3rd round after an even
The trio of American Hunter Mahan, Stricker and Donald were only 1 stroke behind Mickelson at even par after the 3rd round. Rose was 2 strokes behind after 3 rounds at 1 over par as Merion started tightening its noose for the final round. Mickelson was the favorite to win in Sunday’s final round, coincidentally falling on his 43rd birthday.
The crowds were boisterous and cheering him by singing “Happy birthday to you” as he made his way around Merion.
Rose had to deal with the weight of history against him, since the last Englishman to win the US Open was Tony Jacklin in 1970. Mickelson faltered early in the final round with two double bogeys on 3 and 5 but then came back with a phenomenal eagle on 10 from the rough. After numerous lead changes primarily between Mickelson and Rose, Rose now stood on the tee box of the diabolical 18th hole nursing a 1 stroke lead over Mickelson.
About this monumental tee shot Rose would later say: “You just close your eyes and you make a swing and you sort of hope to see it going down the fairway.”
Standing on the edge of the fairway I watched his ball land softly with a minimal role in the middle of the fairway. Rose breathed a sigh of relief as he went on to make par the hole and stay at 1 over par to maintain his 1 stroke lead over Mickleson.
Mickleson had to make a birdie on 18 but came up short once again and made a bogey to finish a bridesmaid for a record 6th time in his career at the US Open. The day belonged to Rose who had lost his father when he was only 21.
“I would rather have had 21 fantastic years with my dad rather than 40 years of a relationship that was, hey, you know, so-so,” He said after his victory.
When asked about being the first Englishman to win in decades, Rose responded: “And I think it was always going to be a matter of time before one of us broke through. It was just going to be a matter of who. I always hoped I would be the first, obviously.”
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