Merion Awards A Rose

ARDMORE, PENNSYLVANIA | Some people wait a lifetime for one of these and this game can make you old at a very young age. Justin Rose looked toward the heavens after tapping in for par at the last and the heavens must have indeed smiled back, reminding him what it’s like to once again experience the unbridled joy of youth. With just the right amount of patience and precision, along with a life tempered with deep disappointment coupled with promise fulfilled, Rose won the U.S. Open on Sunday. It’s certain he will have to say it to himself over and over until it finally sinks in. Rose did battle with grand old Merion Golf Club and the remainder of the Open field and his even-par 70 in the final round was more than good enough to set his career on a new path as a newly crowned major champion. He finished 72 holes at 281, 1-over par, two shots better than the star-crossed Phil Mickelson and the Australian star-in-waiting, Jason Day. “I’ve been striving my whole life to win a major championship,” said Rose, who made three giant putts on the last holes to beat Mickelson in singles at last year’s Ryder Cup. “The way I prepared and the way it played out, it was a dream week.” Rose, born in South Africa and raised in London, was 17 when he holed a wedge shot at Royal Birkdale in 1998 on the final hole that caused the ground to shake. As it turns out, it shook both the golf world and his world. He turned pro shortly thereafter and went on to miss 21 straight cuts and 28 of 31. The undue weight of expectation placed a heavy burden on a young man simply trying to find his way. “At times, it feels like it’s been 25 years since Birkdale and at times, it seems like it was yesterday,” Rose said. “My learning curve has been steep. I probably announced myself as a professional too soon. But now, coming down the last where Ben Hogan won and where he hit his shot, even in the moment, that was not lost on me.” Rose finally won on the European Tour, the 2002 Dunhill Championship. But it took eight more years to win on the PGA Tour, taking the 2010 Memorial Tournament. He has four PGA Tour victories, the latest the WGC-Cadillac Championship last year. At age 32, he came into the U.S. Open with a runner-up finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and three other top-10s. “He is so close it’s burning,” Rose’s caddie, Mark Fulcher, told The Post on Tuesday. “His finest quality is that he takes the best-known people and does what they tell him. He listens, he takes it on board, he’s clever at building a loyal team. He hoped he was a good player, he thought he was a good player and now he knows he is a good player.” Merion left a trail of broken hearts and broken spirits, not the least of which belonged to Mickelson. For the longest time, it seemed as if fate was finally smiling on him in this championship. But he finished second for the sixth time and left many wondering if this was his last good chance. Mickelson’s putter failed him miserably on the most critical of days. He lipped out for birdie at the first and badly missed a four-footer for birdie at the second. From there, he three-putted for double-bogey at the third and another three-putt double-bogey at the fifth. He simply couldn’t get the ball to go in the hole, save for his 75-yard hole-out for eagle at he par-4 10th. “I had some putts that just wouldn’t go in,” Mickelson said. “A lot of them looked good two or three feet from the hole and they just wouldn’t go in.” Mickelson made bogey at the 123-yard 13th when he hit a wedge way over the green into an impossible lie and at the 15th when he – of all things – bladed a chip from the front of the green to the back. “This was my best chance,” Mickelson said. “This one is probably toughest for me. It would have changed the way I look at this tournament and how I see my career. Instead, it was just heartbreak.” In the end, Merion wasn’t too short or too soft or too vulnerable. The USGA kept the setup on the razor’s edge and as a result, it demanded the right decision and the right execution from the first tee to the 18th green. It had been 32 years since the Open was held at Merion and while it might be 20 years more before it comes back, the betting line says someday it will return. While it was here, the course exacted its toll, especially on the Sunday leaders. For about an hour after the leaders teed off, some of the worst carnage transpired in a U.S. Open since maybe the Massacre at Winged Foot in 1974. Steve Stricker hit his tee shot out of bounds on the par-5 second and shanked his next shot from the fairway out of bounds, as well. He made a good 10-footer for a triple-bogey 8.


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