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U.S. Open, Day 4: Merion Wins, Rose Survives
By Torleif Sorenson on 6/17/13
(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 530-yard par-5 18th into a soul-crushing 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 2001 U.S. Open at Congressional (solo second), 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 as 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 ]
ally1957 says:
strange how when they play well and shoot 24 under its skill and when they hardly make a par and some return scores that make the weekend golfer luck good it's the course, the rough, the rain, I thought it was a good test hit fairways go for green. don't hit fairways well just as it should be, rough and bunkers are meant to cost you a stroke. I played a well known course and the caddie said your in the rough I could see the ball from 180 yards away that's NOT rough on most courses here
6/18/13
 
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