ARDMORE, PA — Fly the Cross of St. George next to those red wicker baskets. The U.S. Open has an English champion for the first time in 43 years.
Justin Rose shot a closing 70 Sunday at Merion Golf Club for a 1-over 281 total and his first major championship. He finished two shots ahead of Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.
The 32-year-old Rose overcame his share of misadventures on a course that challenged all comers despite being the shortest at a major in nine years. He took the solo lead for good because of others’ mistakes at No. 15: Mickelson and Hunter Mahan, playing in the final group, both lost shots on the hole to fall out of a tie for first.
Rose’s last shot was a tap-in for par at the 18th, after his caddie removed the pin with the wicker basket on top, the symbol of Merion that replaces the familiar flag. He had chipped it there from the rough just behind the green, nearly becoming the only player to birdie the finishing hole over the final two rounds of the championship.
It’s been a long wait for England since Tony Jacklin won the trophy in 1970. Rose has been in contention before, tying for fifth at Olympia Fields in 2003 and tying for 10th at Oakmont in 2007.
The day appeared to set up well for Mickelson to finally win his first U.S. Open. It was his 43rd birthday, it was Father’s Day, and it was the first time he had held a solo 54-hole lead at the event. He made eagle from the rough at the 10th hole to retake the solo lead.
Instead, he’s a runner-up for the sixth time, extending a record he already held. He was in a three-way tie with Rose and Mahan when his approach rolled back down the fairway at 15. He chipped well past the hole and 2-putted for bogey.
Mahan was the steadiest player on the course, with 13 pars in his first 14 holes, until his tee shot found the rough at 15. He hit into more rough before 3-putting for double bogey.
Rose joins Olin Dutra, Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino and David Graham as U.S. Open champions who conquered the tough little course in the Philadelphia suburbs. His day consisted of five birdies and five bogeys. He missed a 5-footer for par at No. 3, but he sank long birdies on the 6th and 7th, then moved ahead of Mickelson with a 20-footer at No. 13.
It was hard to count out anyone who had a place near the top on the board. Merion turned out to be a place where golfers could post big numbers and live to tell the tale — or at least tread water with everyone else.
But some fell out of contention quickly. Steve Stricker was just one stroke off the lead at the beginning of the day, but his hopes for a first major took a hit when he put two shots out of bounds at No. 2 and settled for an 8. He shot a 76.
Luke Donald also started the round just one shot to make up, but he hit a volunteer with a tee shot on No. 3 and on No. 4, took off his left shoe and sock to play his ball next to Cobbs Creek. He shot a 75.
Charl Schwartzel went briefly under par, then went the other way with a streak of bogeys that led to a 78.
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.
“I did a lot of things right,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, I did a few things wrong as well.”
Hopes for a Grand Slam were also officially dashed. Masters champion Adam Scott shot a 75 to finish 15 over for the tournament.
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.
“We’re in Philly,” he said. “There’s some great fans up here, and I know they can be tough on you and they can love you forever. So I’m sure they appreciated me going to the ground and kissing it.”
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