Justin Rose closes out 1st major win

Updated: June 17, 2013, 8:40 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ARDMORE, Pa. -- They wanted Phil in Philly, serenading him with off-key attempts at "Happy Birthday," chanting his name as he strode down fairways, all but imploring Lefty to hole a nearly impossible pitch shot on the 18th hole that would keep the U.S. Open alive for another day.

The ball, of course, bounded by the wicker basket-topped flagstick at Merion, assuring that Englishman Justin Rose would become the first Briton to win the U.S. Open in more than 40 years.

While Phil Mickelson was left to lament another near-miss at the U.S. Open -- he called it "heartbreaking" -- the 32-year-old Rose offered up another feel-good major winner, a guy who had his own history with 72nd-hole pitch shots.

Rose holed a shot from off the green at the 1998 Open Championship as a 17-year-old amateur to tie for fourth, sending him on an up-and-down odyssey that saw him capture his first major with a solid round of even-par 70 on Sunday.

"It feels fantastic," said Rose, who was born in South Africa, grew up in England, became a citizen of the United Kingdom and now lives in Orlando, Fla. "I committed myself to the process this week. I committed myself to putting a strategy in place that I hoped would work in five-to-10 years in delivering major championships. And I tried to strike on that feeling the first week out, first time I tried and tested it to come out with the silver. And it feels absolutely amazing.

"Going forward gives me a lot of confidence. I don't know if it takes pressure off, but it's a moment where you can look back and think childhood dreams have come true."

Rose turned pro just after 1998 Open Championship, then missed his first 21 cuts. Projected to move from No. 5 to No. 3 in the world with Sunday's win, Rose has five PGA Tour victories as well as six on the European Tour.

But the U.S. Open was his first win since the 2012 WGC-Cadillac Championship. It was the seventh time worldwide this year that he finished in the top 10.

Rose shot rounds of 71-69-71-70 and managed to avoid any double-bogeys. And that was key on another treacherous day at Merion. Rose made five birdies and five bogeys through 16 holes, then managed clutch pars at the brutal 17th and 18th -- the latter from just off the back of the green after a clutch approach from more than 250 yards out.

After narrowly missing an 8-footer at the 16th, Mickelson needed to birdie one of the remaining two holes -- a tall task, especially considering there were no birdies on the final hole all weekend.

[+] EnlargeJustin Rose
Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesJustin Rose not only ended his major drought, he also became the first Englishman to win the U.S. Open since 1970.

His drive flared out to the left on the home hole, Mickelson nonetheless caught a decent lie but still left his approach some 30 yards short of the green. With a 60-yard pitch shot, and with the spectators chanting "Let's Go Phil!" as if they were at a football game, Mickelson did his best to appease, skidding the ball past the hole, then missing the long, all but meaningless par putt.

That dropped him into a tie with Australia's Jason Day for second, giving him a record six runner-up finishes -- and no victories -- in the national championship.

"Heartbreak," said Mickelson, who shot 74 on his 43rd birthday. "This is tough to swallow after coming so close. This was my best chance of all of them. I was playing well, I had a golf course I really liked that I could play aggressive on a number of holes. I felt like this was as good an opportunity I could ask for and to not get it ... it hurts."

Several other contenders struggled as well.

Steve Stricker shot himself out of the tournament with a front-nine 41. Luke Donald had a 42. They tied for eighth.

Hunter Mahan, who played in the final twosome with Mickelson and was tied for the lead as late as the 14th hole, played the final four holes in 4 over to drop into a fourth-place tie with Billy Horschel, Ernie Els and Jason Dufner.

Charl Schwartzel, who began the day a shot out of the lead, shot 78.

Merion again proved to be far more formidable than anyone imagined at the start of the week, when torrential rains softened the course and had many wondering if the U.S. Open scoring record was in danger.

Hardly.

For the second straight year, 1-over 281 was the winning total, with just five scores in the 60s on Sunday.

"Man, it was brutal out there," said Mahan, a five-time PGA Tour winner who, like Rose and Tiger Woods, works with swing coach Sean Foley. "It was tough finishing.

"At the start of the week, everyone thought we were going to rip it up, but I just knew that somewhere around even par was going to win it."

Mickelson will rue the double-bogeys he made at the third and fifth holes, three-putting both. But when he holed a wedge shot at the par-4 10th for eagle, he was in the lead by himself.

But Rose answered with birdies at the 12th and 13th holes. He bogeyed the 14th, but Mickelson made a crucial mistake at the 121-yard, par-3 13th, blowing a pitching wedge over the green. He also bogeyed the 15th hole when he hit a poor gap wedge that spun back to the front of the green, forcing him to chip from the putting surface.

"Two poor wedge shots," said Mickelson, who now has 19 top-3 finishes in majors.

"Should have hit the gap wedge on 13. Hit a poor gap wedge on 15. Where that ball ended up is a very tough par. Those two wedge shots were poor swings coming down the stretch."

When Mickelson failed to birdie the 16th from close range, he was all but relying on Rose -- two groups ahead of him -- to make a mistake.

But Rose -- the first Englishman to win a major since Nick Faldo at the 1996 Masters and the first Brit to claim the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970 -- remained steady.

He hit an excellent approach to the par-3 17th, two-putting from 10-feet for an easy par. On 18, Rose striped his drive into the fairway, then hit an excellent second shot that trickled through the green.

Rose -- who later credited Masters champion Adam Scott with giving him inspiration -- nearly holed the chip for birdie, settling for a par that all but sealed his victory. He then looked skyward, thinking of his father, Ken, who died of leukemia in 2002.

"Yes, the look up to the heavens was absolutely for my dad; Father's Day was not lost on me today," Rose said. "You don't have opportunities to really dedicate a win to someone you love. And today was about him and being Father's Day. I felt that it was just ... I got a beautiful text that said go out and be the man your dad taught you to be and be the man that your kids can be proud and look up to. That's how I tried to carry myself out there. My dad was the inspiration the whole day.

"I was trying to keep it together, obviously, because I didn't want to be premature. Phil had two holes to play. But that was my time, the clouds had parted, it was kind of ironic. It was just a beautiful evening. And the way it worked out, I felt like I needed to do that."

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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