Rose captured his first major championship on Sunday with remarkable calm and three pure shots on the punishing closing holes at Merion. A par on the 18th hole gave him an even-par 70, and that was good enough to become the first Englishman in 43 years to win America’s national championship.
Rose hit 5-iron to the first cut of rough, pin-high on the 17th for an easy par. He smashed the most important tee shot of his career down the middle on the final hole, about 10 yards short of the famous Ben Hogan plaque. And his approach rolled near the pin and settled against the collar of the green.
“When I came over the hill and saw my ball laying in the fairway, I thought, ‘This is my moment.’ It was me hitting from the middle of the fairway,” Rose said.
Rose was in the scoring area a half-mile from the grandstands behind the 18th green where the fans began to chant, “Let’s go Phil!” as Mickelson paced off a last-ditch effort to force a playoff. It was a long shot — the 18th hole didn’t yield a single birdie all weekend. From about 40 yards away, Mickelson’s chip for birdie raced by the cup, securing Rose’s victory.
Sunday was his 43rd birthday. It was the first time he was equipped with the outright lead going into the last day. His week began with a cross-country trip home to San Diego to watch his oldest daughter graduate from the eighth grade, returning just three hours before his tee time on Thursday. This was the same daughter born the day after his first runner-up finish in 1999.
All the stars were aligned. None of the putts fell in.
What hurt Mickelson even more was a wedge from about 121 yards on the 15th hole. It should have given him a good look at birdie, but it came up so short that Mickelson’s best chance was to use one of his five wedges to chip from the front of the green. He hit that one too far, 25 feet by the hole, and the bogey wound up costing him a chance at the major he covets.
Mickelson wound up with a bogey on the 18th for a 74 and tied for second with Jason Day, who closed with a 71.
“Heartbreak,” Mickelson said. “This is tough to swallow after coming so close. This was my best chance of all of them. I had a golf course I really liked. I felt this was as good an opportunity as you could ask for. It really hurts.”
Mickelson was the overnight leader at 1-under, but Lefty was scrambling from the start. His tee shot at the first landed in the rough, but he nearly birdied the hole when his 30-footer lipped out. He was in the sand at No. 2 yet missed a short putt for birdie. He finally paid the price for his waywardness when he put one in a bunker at the par-3 No. 3 and then 3-putted for a 5 that left no one under par for the tournament.
While the leaders were waiting to tee off, Tiger Woods went through the motions of extending his majors drought into a sixth year. It was an unfamiliar sight to see the world’s No. 1 golfer teeing off on a Sunday more than three hours before the top pairing, but he was 10 strokes off the lead after a third-round 76 that matched his worst U.S. Open round as a pro.
Woods wore his usual Sunday red shirt, but it didn’t keep him from quickly achieving a dubious double — out of bounds and a 3-putt on the same hole. That made for a triple-bogey 8 at No. 2. He shot a 74 to finish 13 over par.
Sunday was five years to the day since Woods won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. His running tally of majors wins is stuck on 14, four shy of Jack Nicklaus’ record.
Meanwhile, Shawn Stefani found a unique way to solve Merion: Hit the ball in the rough and get a hole-in-one. His 4-iron at the 229-yard, par-3 17th landed left of the green, bounced down the slope and meandered its way some 50 feet across the green and into the hole.
Stefani nearly jumped out of his skin. Then he kissed the spot where the ball landed.