Forty-three years since an English winner of the United States Open. Seventeen years since the last Englishman to win any major. Fifteen years since he first suggested he could win one of the four grand events by finishing fourth in the Open as a 17 year old amateur.
Those three agonising and burdensome shackles were all gloriously removed when Justin Rose claimed the 113th edition of the US Open at Merion on Sunday.In doing so, he followed in the footsteps of Tony Jacklin in 1970 and ended the long wait for a major winner since Sir Nick Faldo claimed the third of his green jackets in 1996.Rose achieved his moment of glory following the shot of a lifetime on the 18th, where his perfect tee shot finished just 18 inches from Ben Hogan’s famous plaque. Needing a par to set an almost unassailable target, could Rose hit a shot to match one played by the great man in 1950? Better.
Yes, better. With a Hoganesque swing of perfect angles and smooth tempo, his four iron never left the flag and he was unlucky that it rolled 30ft past the flag. A little three wood from the first cut of rough to an inch from the hole. Then came a poignant moment when he looked to the heavens. No explanation was necessary. On Father’s Day he was thinking of his dad Ken, the man who introduced him to the game, who died of cancer in 2002 at the age of just 57. How proud he would have been of the manner in which Rose played the brutal closing holes, nailing every shot.
‘A lot of us come from great men and it was important for me to carry myself and do myself proud on this day,’ he said. ‘I saw the Hogan plaque and said to myself this is my time. I’ve seen that famous picture of Hogan a million times and I wanted to hit a shot like that myself.’Rose revealed he took inspiration from Adam Scott’s success at the Masters in April. Like Rose, he was one of the nearly men at the majors until his triumph. ‘He told me that my time would come and I’m so pleased he has proved a very wise man!’ said Rose.
In the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed all those years ago, it seemed only fitting that the destiny of this cherished title came down to a contest between an Englishman and a couple of Americans. Not to mention, in this summer when the two countries will have one or two meetings, an Aussie in Jason Day.Rose played the part of the ‘villain’ to perfection to beat Hunter Mahan and the sentimental and crowd favourite, Phil Mickelson.
Five times a runner-up in this event but never a winner, fate seemed to be shining on Mickelson on his 43rd birthday. At the par four 10th he holed a second shot from 76 yards for an eagle two. This is Philly, where the basketball team are known as the 76ers, where the interstate carrying that number connects the city to other parts of the nation. This particular Philadelphia 76 must have been heard all over America.
But this being Phil, there were errors as well. At the short 13th measuring just 115 yards, where he flew the green and again at the 15th.In the end he needed to birdie the 18th to tie the man who opposed him in one of the great Ryder Cup singles matches of all time at Medinah. Just as on that day, it was Rose who came out on top.In the end Mickelson bogeyed it for his sixth runner-up finish, alongside Day.What an afternoon of drama we enjoyed. Rose moved into the lead following a run of three birdies in four holes from the fourth. For once, the putts were dropping and doing justice to the majesty of his long game.
This time last week the 32 year old was telling Sportsmail he would win majors if he remained patient and that’s exactly what he did.At the 11th there was a bad mistake but instantly rectified when two more putts dropped at the 12th and 13th. At the 14th the rain started to fall and his mid-iron squirted right into a bunker, from where he failed to get up and down.Now the tension had become unbearable. Mickelson chopped his way down the difficult 14th but rolled in a 20ft lifesaver for a par.
Mahan also made an unlikely par. Rose played the 16th hole beautifully. His second shot was 2ft from finishing next to the hole. At Merion, that’s all it takes on some holes for the ball to roll 40ft back down a slope. Rose suffered a gut-wrenching three putt.A well-played par followed at the 17th and then the brutal 18th, where a perfect drive, almost eerily, finished so close to Hogan’s plaque.
It was hard not to feel a smidgeon of sympathy for the classy Mickelson but no-one would deny an Englishman a stroke of luck in the majors, not after all the near misses, and Rose has always conducted himself with consummate grace and class. After Scott at the Masters this is shaping up to be the year of the nice guy in the majors.
‘What a day,’ said Rose. ‘I just stayed in my tunnel and dug deep.’At least Mickelson was there in contention, which was more than could be said for his great rival, Tiger Woods. Indeed, Mickelson hadn’t even made it into the car park by the time Tiger ran up his worst-ever score on a single hole in this event. The crowd on the practice range had barely begun their first rendition of ‘happy birthday’ when Tiger reached the depths of double digits over par. And Phil had just finished enjoying the adulation of the excited hordes on the opening holes when Tiger tapped in for a 72 hole total of 293 strokes, his worst-ever in relation to par in a major as a professional.
Back in March, he won the Cadillac Championship against a class field, needing just 100 putts for four rounds. Here he needed no fewer than 128.Alongside Woods in the middle of the pack was Scott. World number two Rory McIlroy needed one shot more.Some of the men who entertained hopes of winning at the start of play fared little better. Talk in the build-up to Merion had centred around whether a storied course brought back into play would be able to cope. Here, it was some of the best players in the world who couldn’t cope.
Luke Donald fell quickly with a horrible front nine of 42 strokes as did the 2011 Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel and Steve Stricker, at 46 hoping to become the event’s oldest winner.This, then was a tournament dominated by spills and more spills. Well at least until the end, when one man stood tall and hit a shot on the 18th so good it deserves a plaque all its own.‘I wanted to finish in style like Hogan,’ said Rose. And he did to join not only Hogan but other greats like Bob Jones and Lee Trevino – all winners at storied Merion. – DailyMail