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Coming Up Roses

They said that Merion was past its time as a Major Championship venue. They said that the modern day player would be playing pitch and putt on the venerable old lady that has been host to 18 USGA Championships which is more than any other course in the country. They predicted that all manner of US Open scoring records would be set this week and that Merion’s fairways would be a sea of red, players under par that is. They said that the torrential rains that had drenched the course in the days before the first round would soften it so much that the players would be taking dead aim at every hole. And they were so very, very wrong.

After the first 36 holes of the 113th US Open Championship, there were a grand total of two players under par. Phil Mickelson who has been the bridesmaid a record 5 times in our oldest Championship and up and coming star Billy Horschel (who we wrote about in the May blob post, “Billy, Billy, Billy”), were tied for the lead at a “looks like we’re not bringing this place to it’s knees, after all” score of 1-under par.

In the on-going chronicles of, “What will Phil do next”, Mickelson had played his practice rounds at Merion on Monday and Tuesday and then hopped into his private jet back to his home in San Diego to attend his daughters’ 8th grade graduation on Wednesday night. After going to the ceremony, Mickelson flew all night back to Philadelphia and was at the course at 5:40 am before going out to shoot the low round of the day, a 67. That would give him a two shot lead after the opening round.  

Saturday’s third round saw many of the games’ best players play their way into contention.  England’s Luke Donald, a former World #1 had played beautifully to claim the lead at 2-under par for the tournament until a bogey, double bogey finish on 17 & 18 ended his day on a disappointing note. Fellow Englishman Justin Rose was also very much in the mix at one over par after posting a third round 69.

46 year old Steve Stricker overcame a double bogey on the tenth hole to shoot an even par-70 and be one shot back of the leader. Hunter Mayhan and Charl Schwartzel both shot 69’s and were tied with Stricker. Billy Horschel overcame a shaky start to remain very much in the mix after a 2-over par 72 which put him at 1-over par for the Championship.

At the end of the day however, there was only one player under par, Phil Mickelson. Despite missing some short putts early in his round, Mickelson played superbly from tee to green. From the very first, this has looked to be Lefty’s Open to win, but given his sometimes tragic history in US Opens, Sunday’s final round would make for a very long afternoon.

Sunday’s final round began like so many before for Mickelson. After two routine pars on the first two holes he then sandwiched a birdie on the fourth with two double bogeys on the third and fifth holes. Over the next four holes he kept burning the edges of the hole with birdie putts and made the turn 3-over par for the day and 2-over for the Championship. His playing partner, Hunter Mahan had played steady golf and was tied for the lead with Justin Rose at one-over par.

In the early going, Jason Day had played the best golf of all in the leading groups and was two-under par on his round as he played the eleventh hole. Day hit a careless approach from a good lie in the rough into the creek that guards the green. Day played another poor pitch shot that came up short of the green after taking his penalty drop. He then chipped in for a bogey 5 that could have been so much worse. It is often times moments like these that propel a player to victory in Major Championships.

Almost at the same time, Mickelson had laid up into the rough on the drivable, par 4 tenth hole. He would then hole out for an eagle two and be tied for the lead again. Surely this was to finally be the year for Mickelson?

While all these spectacular US Open ups and downs had been playing out, Justin Rose had birdied 5 out his first 13 holes and had taken the outright lead at 1-under par. The final 5 holes at Merion are considered as punishing as any in all of Major Championship golf and present each player with the chance to implode at any moment.

Rose would make bogeys at the treacherous 14th and 16th holes before making pars at the last two holes (which may be the most difficult of all) to finish at 1-over par and hold the clubhouse lead.

Mickelson meanwhile made a bogey on the short par 3 13th hole and another on the 15th to be at two over par. He would need to make a birdie on one of the three closing holes to tie Rose. He would fail to do so giving him his sixth and perhaps most excruciating second place finish at the US Open. It may be the last time that Mickelson has the chance to win the trophy he covets the most, but there is so much valor in the way that he has always competed.

For Rose, this is a triumph that may allow him to transition into the echelon of elite players. It is richly deserved and has been a long time coming for the 32 year old Englishman. Fitting really, because this is Father’s Day; the symbol for which is….a rose.