Justin Rose an emotional and popular champion at Merion
Phil Mickelson second for the sixth time as victor ends England’s long wait for a Major winner
Some scripts work out to plan, others are torn to shreds. Justin Rose, who experienced his fair share of travails in the early part of his career when missing cut after cut, finally found the promised land when landing the 113th US Open at famed Merion Golf Club and, as fate would have it, Phil Mickelson was – again – the one left to rue missing out.
Rose, in securing a maiden Major title and the first by an English golfer since Nick Faldo’s win in the Masters in 1991, shot a final round 70 for 181, one over, which gave him a two-stroke winning margin over Mickelson, on his 43rd birthday, who finished runner-up for a record sixth time in the championship.
In a final round where the old course again showed its wicked side, Rose demonstrated tremendous composure. When all around him others were losing out to frustration, as heavy rough and brutally tight pin positions took their toll, Rose – whose only frailty came with a three-putt bogey on the 16th – closed the deal and retreated to the sanctuary of the scorer’s hut to bide his time.
When Hunter Mahan bowed to the pressure of the chase and, then, and more importantly, Mickelson failed to find the required birdie on any of the closing holes, Rose could finally allow himself to wallow in the new status as champion.
Mickelson’s closing bogey actually saw him shoot a 74, which brought him into a two-way share of second with Australian Jason Day.
It was a day best forgotten for some.
Luke Donald, who got to watch each and every one of playing partner Rose’s 70 strokes, had a catastrophic start which saw him double-bogey the sixth on the back of three straight bogeys from the third hole.
Others struggled too, with Steve Stricker’s triple-bogey eight on the second ending his quest for a first Major before it ever got going.
The title had seemed destined for Mickelson: on his birthday, and going into the final round with the memory of five runners-up finishes in the championship. Lefty – who had delayed turning up until just hours before his tee time last Thursday so that he could attend his daughter’s graduation from school – was the people’s champion.
Or so it seemed.
Undeterred, Rose went about ripping up Mickelson’s script; and wrote his own.
“Every time I think of the US Open I just think of heartbreak,” said Mickelson, who double-bogeyed two of his opening five holes to make life difficult and ultimately impossible for himself. “For me it’s very heart breaking.
“This could have been a really big turnaround for me on how I look at the US Open and the tournament that I’d like to win, after having so many good opportunities.”
Of course, Mickelson contributed to the drama when holing out from rough with a 54-degree gap wedge for an eagle on the 10th. If that audacious shot seemed as if it would energise his round, it didn’t and, when he overshot the short 13th green and ran up a bogey, the door was opened for whoever wanted to walk through it.
Day made a tremendous effort, until he bogeyed two of his last five holes. And when the toughest questions were asked, Rose was up to the task. It was far from easy or straightforward, as five birdies along with five bogeys testified.
His back-to-back birdies on the 12th and 13th were followed, though, by bogeys on the 14th – where he failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker – and the 16th, when he three-putted. But he held his nerve on the tough 17th and the unforgiving 18th to finish par-par.
On the last, he boomed a drive down the middle of the fairway. Tempting fate almost, the ball landed just behind the plaque which commemorated Ben Hogan’s famed one-iron approach to the 72nd hole in the 1950 US Open. Taking up the challenge, Rose hit a mid-iron approach that covered the pin and ran through to the back of the green.
“I saw my ball in the fairway I thought ‘this is my moment’,” he said afterwards. “You know, I have seen that Ben Hogan photograph a million times and suddenly it was me hitting middle of the fairway. I just tried not to get too ahead of myself. I hit a beautiful four iron into the green. I’m just so glad it all worked out.”
Using a fairway wood, he rolled his birdie attempt which finished on the lip. It was enough. The tap-in marked his rise in status to that of a Major champion, and those 21 successive missed cuts that marked the start to his professional life on tour were very much a thing of the past.
“It’s been too long, really,” said Donald, commenting on the long gap – some 68 Majors – since Faldo’s triumph. “I think we’ve had a lot of talent come out of England and hopefully we’ve broken our bad period. This will be a great week for Justin and for England.”
Rose, who first burst onto the golfing scene when finishing fourth as a teenage amateur in the 1998 British Open at Birkdale, finally, bridged that gap.
On the day that was in it, he dedicated the win to his late father Ken, who passed away after a long battle with cancer in 2002.
“You saw me look to the heavens with it being Father’s Day — I was just trying to remember my dad. I don’t know what to say, I’m thrilled.”