For Justin Rose, it was the realisation of a long-held dream, he can now call himself a Major title winner.
For Phil Mickelson, it was agony for the sixth time as Lefty once again finished second in the US Open. For the rest of the field, it was just one word. Brutal.
Rose’s finishing total of 1-over-par is barely an indication of just how tough conditions at Merion were. The fact that only four golfers managed to finish below five-over perhaps the best indicator of just how difficult the USGA had made the test for those seeking to win it’s blue ribbon event.
The achievements of the Englishman, who first rose to prominence with a 4th placed finish at the British Open at Royal Birkdale in 1999, should not be overlooked: On any other course, his consistency from tee to green would have drawn much more handsome reward on the scorecard. He’s the first English winner of the US Open trophy since Tony Jacklin in 1970 (Video below) and end’s a drought of English Major winners that stretches back to Nick Faldo’s victory at the 1996 Masters.
It was certainly a dramatic day with Rose holding his nerve while those around him succumbed to Merion’s brutal test. Steve Stricker, normally so consistent, hit it out of bounds on the third twice to record an eight. Luke Donald, starting on the same 1-over-par as Justin Rose, was soon out of contention after a flurry of birdies. Soon, the field was realistically down to four.
Ernie Els and Jason Dufner had posted clubhouse scores of 5-over, but Mickelson, Rose, Mahan and Day looked likely to better that. Day was next into the club house posting a score of 3-over, but that was never likely to be enough with the trio playing behind him sitting at a combination of even par and 1-over.
Mahan (below) cracked first, with a double bogey on 15th, Rose bogeyed the 16th to fall back to one over, briefly level with Mickelson but Lefty then bogeyed the 15th to drop to +2.
The feeling was, with two to play Rose just needed to play par golf to lift the title. The Englishman produced his very best. A brave tee shot at 17 and a nerveless chip to the hole side handing him a fine par and then at the last, a majestic tee shot and superb 5-iron from almost the same spot Ben Hogan hit his famous 1-iron, flew right at the wicker basket and rolled just past and off the green.
It was a truly world class shot that deserved a far better reward than a tricky 20 foot chip from the fringe. Rose though used his 3-wood to guide the ball to the hole side and indeed almost in. A crucial four that gave him the clubhouse lead on one-over.
With Mickelson a shot back, he stood on the 17th tee realising he needed a birdie to tie, two to win on arguably two of the toughest holes in US Open history. In the end, Mickelson couldn’t manage it, dropping another shot at the final hole after he’d desperately tried to chip in his third shot to hand Rose a two-shot victory.
It was a majestic victory for the Englishman who dedicated the victory, on Father’s Day, to his deceased father and mentor Ken, a fact he confirmed in an emotional interview after his round with Sky Sports.
For Mickelson, it was simply a case of so close but yet so far. For all his brilliance at times, the popular American just didn’t find enough fairways from the tee and that would ultimately prove his undoing.
Yet, there is a degree of sympathy for Mickelson and the 150 golfers who played Merion this week. It is incredible to think that despite the course being struck by huge downpours prior and during the early rounds of the event, softening the greens, players still struggled to post rounds of anything near to par.
In amongst the best wishes for Rose, such as from former US Open winner Rory McIlroy, there were murmurings of discontent. Lee Westwood claimed on his Facebook status that had the USGA officials got a bone-dry Merion for the four days, which is what he believed they wanted, then the course would have been “impossible” to play.
He has a point. Watching the final round unfold at times was uncomfortable. It wasn’t an exercise in shot-making, or a tournament where the world’s top golfers could showcase their skills, it was simply a survival of the fittest, most accurate and those for whom the bounce and roll of the ball on Merion’s unpredictable greens and fairways favoured.
While understanding that the USGA wanted a test of golfers skills, this week’s US Open was less a test and more a war. The rough was not just penalising, but at times unplayable. Hole distances for some far too long, flag positions ridiculously difficult and golfers faced harsh penalties for even a great shot.
Merion will always be remembered for Ben Hogan’s 1-iron at the last. Yet yesterday, Justin Rose’s five iron was every bit as good a shot. The difference was Hogan played into greens that were receptive, Rose didn’t and it meant his outstanding approach shot rolled through the green and into the fringe.
The USGA need to address this, while a stern test of golf should always be a hallmark of the US Open, I felt this year, as in some years previous, they got it badly wrong. In the end come Sunday, we didn’t see players trying to win the tournament, we saw players trying to avoid losing it and as the most consistent player all week, allied to a superb finish over the final two holes in particular, that is why Rose achieved his victory.
I hope that for next year’s event, the USGA will realise that it needs far greater balance and more reward for good shots, with fewer penalties. Watching golf is so much more exciting on the final day when players are throwing the occasional birdie or eagle at each other over the final few holes, rather than hanging on desperately in an attempt to par each hole, in the hope their opponents will suffer at the whims of the course.
With that said, Justin Rose’s achievement in winning the 2013 US Open is perhaps an even greater feat than perhaps even he realises and one the likeable Englishman richly deserves.
And in a few weeks, he’ll have a chance to win his second major when the eyes of the golfing world turn towards Muirfield for the British Open.