U.S. Open, Day 4: Merion Wins, Rose Survives
By Torleif Sorenson on 6/16/13
(Soundtrack by Gloria Gaynor)

Merion Golf Club's East course and the USGA were ultimately the winners of the 113th U.S. Open this week, the predictable result of USGA Executive Director Mike Davis turning a driveable par-4 into a monstrous par-3... and the 18th into a soul-crushing, 530-yard par-4.

Stricken Stricker

Coming into Sunday tied for second, Wisconsin native Steve Stricker was playing in his 59th major championship — only Tom Kite played more majors (72) before winning the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

But at 2, Stricker's quest for a major spun out of control. Not only did his tee-shot leak out-of-bounds on the right, but then on his fourth shot from 257 yards, he flat-shanked it OB. He did well to card an 8, but that was that.

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

After making par at the first two holes, Luke Donald's approach at three struck and injured the young woman serving as the standard-bearer in Jason Day and Billy Horschel's pairing. NBC's blimp shot showed the victim lying in the rough near a tree, being attended to by a police officer.

Perhaps shocked by the incident, Donald came apart, bogeying 3 and 4, dumping two shots in the hazard at 5 for bogey, then three-putting 6 for a double-bogey — at which point he tumbled off the leaderboard. Donald extracted birdies from Merion at 7, 10, and 12, but Merion extracted three bogeys from Donald, leaving him with a 75, tied for eighth.

Bad Pants, Bad Putts

For some inexplicable reason, Billy Horschel showed up for Sunday's round in blue pants covered with white octopi. And after cruising through the first hole, he got punished for his fashion (non)sense by rimming out his par putt at 2, and darn near ringing out his bogey putt. At 9, Horschel's pitch shot didn't even reach the green. Following another bogey putt, NBC's Peter Jacobsen cracked the obligatory joke:
"Those octopus pants are going to be calamari soon."
Horschel ended up tied for fourth at 285 with Ernie Els and Jason Dufner, who followed up Saturday 73s with an impressive 69 and a 67, respectively.

Hunting For Consistency

On Sunday, Hunter Mahan kept hitting fairway after fairway and carding par after par — in most cases, the recipe for U.S. Open victory. But his otherwise fine approach at the 6th hit a wall of wind, and the Texan couldn't quite coax the par effort into the jar. At 4:56 p.m. EDT, Mahan's bogey gave South African-born Englishman Justin Rose a temporary lead.

Mahan then canned eight more pars, but at the brutal 15th, he lost his tee-shot to the right, into deep rough. His approach also wound up short, then his birdie pitch dropped 20 feet past the hole. Mahan then three-putted, including a shocking missed short putt for bogey.

Amateur Hour

University of California-Berkeley junior Michael Kim, one of three Cal men's golf team members competing this week, was the low amateur all weekend, following up an impressive Saturday 71 with a 76.
"That feels awesome. I had a difficult ending, but the overall week it's just an unbelievable experience."

Light of Day

Jason Day came up short on Sunday, following an outstanding 68 on Saturday. At the 10th hole, Day heroically found the green in regulation, then sank a birdie to tie Rose for the lead. But at 11, Day's approach splashed into Cobb's Creek. His follow-up just barely stayed out the water, winding up in the deep grass and resulting in a bogey. Merion's 14th cut another bogey out of the Queenslander, who did quite well to save par at 16 and 17. But he rimmed out his par-saver at 18. Day's 71 certainly does not constitute a disaster and resulted in a T-2 at Merion. At The Masters, Day finished T-2 in 2011 and solo third this year. Day also won the Non-Rory Flight at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, all of which shows that he is on the cusp of winning a major:
"I feel that my game is in a really good spot right now. I'm doing the right things. I'm doing the little things that count. I've been close so many times now in majors, especially at a young age, which is nice. I've got plenty of majors to play in and hopefully I can keep doing the same as I'm doing, and hopefully win one soon."
This writer expects it to happen much sooner than later.

On The Edge

For the second time, Phil Mickelson entered the final round of a U.S. Open with a lead, and hinted of success after just missing a birdie putt at 1. At 2, after dumping his tee shot in the right rough, he nearly holed a very awkward bunker shot for birdie. Things were looking up for Lefty.

Then at 3, Mickelson missed left into a green-side bunker. While he found the green from the sand, his ball ran down the slope to the front of the green. Then he blew his par putt hard and left, resulting in a three-putt double-bogey. He recovered at 4, nearly holing an eagle putt and getting a birdie. But at the cruel 5th, Mickelson narrowly avoided the water, just barely keeping his recovery shot in the fairway. However, he couldn't avoid another three-putt for double-bogey. As he told the press afterward...
"I should have made bogeys on those holes, but I made them doubles."
At 4:42 p.m. EDT and playing two groups ahead of Mickelson, Justin Rose managed to nudge a very ticklish, wobbling putt home for birdie at the 7th green, tying for the lead. Then at the 8th green, Rose's par putt took a 270° tour of the edge before falling in.

In contrast, Mickelson burned the edges at 6, 8, and 9, causing many viewers to feel that he was due for a good turn. At 5:38 p.m. EDT, NBC's Johnny Miller made a veiled prediction:
"He's had so many bad things happen — and he's only one back!"
An awesomely good thing occurred just moments later at the 10th: Mickelson holed out from the fairway for eagle, vaulting him over Justin Rose into a solo lead. It was Mickelson's first eagle at the U.S. Open since the final round in 2009 at Bethpage.

The 13th proved problematic for both Rose and Mickelson; Rose burned the edge of the hole, missing a birdie and a share of the lead. But Mickelson and caddie Jim "Bones" MacKay decided the 121-yard 13th hole was going to play 127 yards. Mickelson flew the green, dropping his tee-shot into the deep rough behind the green. Then, his recovery wedge almost flew off the front of the green. He burned another edge with his putter, leaving him with another bogey.

At 14, Rose found the fairway, but dumped his approach in the front right bunker — then he cold-shanked his bunker shot, leaving it short and way right. His admirable par putt missed just on the right edge of the jar. Meanwhile, Mickelson escaped 14's rough twice and got a long par putt to fall.

By 6:35 p.m. EDT, four golfers were still in the race: Day, Mahan, Mickelson, and Rose.

At 15, Mickelson found the right edge of the fairway while Mahan began his jungle-safari to a double bogey. But moments after hitting a gap wedge-second shot, Mickelson was heard to say, "I quit on it." The ball came up short of the green, forcing him to chop another wedge from the front edge of the green over a mound — which he air-mailed to the back edge of the green. He then missed his par-saver.

At the double-dogleg 16th, Rose pushed his birdie putt way too hard; his first three-putt of the week resulted in bogey and took him back into a tie for the lead. Two groups later, from 159 yards, Mickelson absolutely stuck the landing of his second shot like an Olympic gymnast, but burned the edge of the hole again, leaving him with a disappointing par.

On the long par-3 17th, Rose laced a 5-iron right at the wicker, which stopped just in the first cut; Rose saved par. By the time Mickelson got to 17, he badly needed a birdie but caught a terrible break by just missing the middle ridge of the green. At 6:14 p.m. EDT, Mickelson's long putt for birdie coasted to a stop just 12 agonizing inches short of the hole.

In the 113 years of the U.S. Open championship, golfers have birdied the final hole to get into a playoff only seven times, the last being Tiger Woods, playing on a shredded knee at Torrey Pines in 2008. (And we all know how that Open turned out.)

From the 18th tee, Rose split the fairway, landing very near the plaque marking the spot from which Ben Hogan hit his famous 1-iron at the 72nd hole of the 1950 U.S. Open. Like Hogan, Rose hit a very fine approach, landing at the back collar of the green. With a fairway metal in his hands, Rose tapped to a tantalizing two inches from the cup. Following his tap-in par, Rose looked toward the heavens and thought of his late father.

Now needing a birdie at 18 to get into a Monday playoff, Mickelson missed another fairway, then from 224 yards, left his approach shot in the middle of the apron, but well short of the hole. His wedge missed the hole by just two feet.

At 7:28 p.m. EDT, Justin Rose became the U.S. Open champion.

Moments later (and perhaps fittingly for this monstrous course setup), both Mickelson and Mahan missed their par putts, giving Mike Davis and the USGA the last laugh.

Mickelson was crushed:
"This one's probably the toughest for me, because at 43 and coming so close five times, it would have changed way I look at this tournament altogether and the way I would have looked at my record. Except I just keep feeling heartbreak."

Everything's Coming Up Rose(s)

In his 37th start in a major championship, Rose captured his sixth professional win and his second on the PGA Tour. He then gave Phil Mickelson some very gracious and well-deserved kudos at the award ceremony.

Rose carefully measured his own joy, going back to his emergence at the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale:
"Probably at times, it feels 25 years since Birkdale, and other times it feels like it was just yesterday. There's a lot of water under the bridge. My learning curve has been steep from that point.

"[I] sort of announced myself on the golfing scene probably before I was ready to handle it. And golf can be a cruel game. And definitely I have had the ups and down, but I think that ultimately it's made me stronger and able to handle the situations like today, for example."

If 4 Was 5

The 18th hole played at 511 yards, but remained a par-4 — so you shouldn't be surprised that nobody registered so much as a birdie there on Saturday or Sunday, when it played as the second-toughest hole both days and robbed us of at least a little drama at the end.

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Image via USOpen.com

[ comments ]
ToddRobb says:
I thought that Jason Day was going to pull it out but he couldn't make the putts he needed. Hard to believe, but at no point did I feel that Phil was going to win, I am on record for saying out loud to group I was watching with that (after he holed out) "he''ll find a way to lose", I certainly didn't think he would air mail the 13th green and chip instead of putting on the green on 15. As simple as it sounds the biggest thing that Phil's game is lacking is the ability to play conservatively when he needs to. When the pressure is on we all tend to go to what's comfortable, for Phil comfortable is trying the hero shot. It was just a matter of time until he tried to do something totally un-necessary instead of "playing it safe". Congratulations to Justin Rose.
...the Murseless says:
If 4 was 5, then Rose would have been sitting at 4-under after having birdied the last, and Mickelson would have needed eagle to tie.

All in all, though - a great US Open, with 4 players still with a chance after 70 holes, and arguably 3 of them not collapsing; this one was won rather than lost.
mjaber says:
It was there for the taking for Phil, and he couldn't get it done on the greens. Too many putts. Too many burned edges. I wanted him to win. It seemed like the prefect, "storybook" ending to his quest for a US Open. I thought when he holed the eagle that maybe, just maybe, that would be the turning point for him, but he couldn't keep it together.
joe jones says:
My prediction of the winning score was spot on. The whole idea of playing a U S Open is to stay at or as close to par all three days. Rose's scores of 71-69-71 & 70 indicated an ability to be steady. He is obviously one of the best ball strikers on tour. Leading or close to the top in fairways hit and greens in regulation. His only shortcomings in the past has been a faulty putter at times. In the open it is not necessary to be a great putter. The winner just has to be able to two putt. Many of the pro's are if nothing else consistent on the greens but not hitting fairways and greens makes winning impossible. Rose was able to do both. I was hoping Mickelson, Stricker or Woods could have won but Rose was obviously the best player in the field and a deserved winner.
legitimatebeef says:
Rose was awesome, his final 70 outclassed all the contenders. To me, it looked like on 18 he hit the drive of his life, followed by the approach shot of his life, followed by the chip-putt of his life, and fittingly was rewarded with probably the sweetest tap-in ever. That was cool, one of the best final hole performances I can recall seeing.

The convergence of Father's Day, Phil's b-day and US Open Sunday was just too much. The universe can only handle so much maudlin sentimentality at a time and I think that's why Phil came up short. It's the only rational explanation for finishing runner-up for the sixth time.
Torleif Sorenson says:
I just *love* it when Beef breaks out the proverbial violins... :-P
mustang6560 says:
@ToddRobb: You took a lot of grief for your opinion about Phil last week, but Phil disappointed yet again. Lefty is too volatile of a player, in my opinion, to be his fan. He's "exciting", he's "engaging", etc. (hole out for eagle on 10), but he always comes up short (bogey on 13, a 121-yard par 3).
slimpks1850 says:
Thanks Phil. Your wedge play was magical on 13 & 15.
Thanks Merion - great course!!!

Congrats to Justin Rose. Well done.
joe jones says:
In defense of Phil. Nobody has provided more thrills than Phil the thrill. You never know which guy is going to show up. If your a golfer you must identify with how the game can keep you twisting and turning in the wind. I never know from week to week which part of my game is going to work and which part is going to be a disaster. He tries more ridiculous shots than anybody on the tour. He played a very conservative game for three day's and then weird stuff percolates out of his brain when it is not called for. That is why he is so much fun to watch. Sadly ,the sands of time are running out for him. His illness is a progressive one that can be stabilized but not cured. He may go down in history along side of Sam Snead in that he never was able to win our Open. He has also said that he is uncomfortable playing at the British Open so that door may be closing rapidly.For years Phil came across as a bit of a phony but that opinion is no longer the case. .
ToddRobb says:
@mustang Yes, typical Phil. He takes the driver out of the bag and adds an extra wedge, ultimately it was his wedges that cost him the tournament. The 13th played 121 yards, he said they played it at 127, he proceeds to miss the green with a wedge, he then takes his second shot with a wedge and doesn't get it close and walks away with a bogey. Then on 15 his approach with a wedge comes up short, and instead of putting thru the apron and trying to get it close, he tries the hero shot with a wedge which fails miserably and walks away with a bogey. One thing is for sure, all of the Phil lovers got a full dose of what they love about him, the fake over celebration of one shot, which at the end meant nothing but another second place finish (just like last week).
srogers13 says:
I don't know Todd, can you really fake a three inch vertical jump when faking a celebration?
larrynjr says:
As much as I wanted Phil to win, I'm glad the Justin actually won outright. What I mean is in other Opens, the winner wasn't in the lead at the end, someone else was and they lost the open. I know that's just 6 of one or a half dozen but it just seems a more satisfying win that way to me.
ToddRobb says:
@srogers you're being generous with that three inches.
joe jones says:
All in all most of the players had very positive comments on the course setup. Even those that struggled badly mostly blamed their own shortcomings rather than the way the course was set up.The only thing I saw wrong was the wall to wall rough with no first cut. I feel it's very punitive when you miss the fairway by a few inches and find yourself in 5 inch deep narly rough. Especially on the down hill side of some of the most difficult driving holes. I saw Hunter Mahan hit what the announcers described as a perfect drive with little draw only to see the ball land on the right center of the fairway, make a left turn and run down hill about 25 yards into a lie just off the fairway that was just about unplayable.With a first cut he might have had a difficult shot to the green but not an impossible one,.
mjaber says:
@ToddRobb... I don't think it was JUST the wedges that cost him the championship. You also have to look at his putting, which went from everything falling on Thursday, to absolutely nothing falling on Sunday. How many times did he burn the edge? With the final scores being that close, you can point to any number of mistakes made and say "What If", and they can be right. I think it was the 2 doubles early that cost him.
slimpks1850 says:
13th - easiest par 3, 121 yards - wedge in hand on the tee. Took 4 to move on.

15th - took on the bunker, turned it into a birdie hole, 129? yards, if I remember correctly, from the fairway with wedge in hand. Took 4 from there to move on.

Phil turned 2 good birdie chances into bogeys with 2 wedges and 2 putts on each hole... late at the Open. Magic! (I can still hear the chants at 18 - Lets go Phil, Lets go Phil) It was a great Open.
ToddRobb says:
@slimpks EXACTLY!!!
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