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U.S. Open: Justin Rose stuck to plan – per usual, Phil Mickelson didn’t

By Ron Green Jr.
Ron Green Jr.
Ron Green Jr., a former Observer staff writer, will write golf columns occasionally for the newspaper.

Having had a few days to get used to the sound of “Justin Rose, U.S. Open champion,” a few observations from the week at Merion Golf Club:

• For lack of a better term, there’s a format to winning U.S. Opens – make enough birdies, make a ton of pars and don’t make anything worse than a bogey.

That’s why Rose won and Phil Mickelson didn’t.

Rose made a pre-Open visit to Merion, got a feel for the course’s quirks, and adopted a conservative game plan that worked beautifully. Rose hit 42 fairways, more than all but one player. He also hit 50 greens, seventh-best in the field, and averaged 30 putts per round.

He made 15 birdies, 16 bogeys and no bad mistakes.

With rare exceptions (Arnold Palmer at Cherry Hills in 1960, Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach in 2001) heroic play doesn’t win the U.S. Open. Steady play does. It happened again.

Mickelson was done in by his own mistakes again.

When he holed a wedge shot for eagle at the par-4 10th Sunday to steal the lead back from Rose, it seemed as if this finally might be Mickelson’s year. But he already had made double-bogeys at the third and fifth holes, where he compounded the problem by three-putting. The most egregious mistake was missing the green on the 121-yard, par-3 13th hole, where he made his second bogey of the tournament on statistically the easiest U.S. Open hole in 32 years.

The final, killing mistake was leaving his wedge approach shot short at the 15th, leading to another bogey. Those two shots – at 13 and 15 – were the ones Mickelson said he will remember.

Merion answered the question whether it could stand up to the modern game. In fact, the set-up might have gone over the edge in spots.

It’s understood the U.S. Open is going to be difficult, but there was no reason for the par-3 third hole to be 274 yards into the wind Sunday. That was silly. It’s still a hard hole from 200 yards.

Much was made of the fact that there were no birdies at the 18th hole Saturday or Sunday. That’s because it played like a par-5, not a par-4.

“I really do believe it’s the hardest hole we play in any U.S. Open,” U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis, in charge of the set-up, said.

• What to make of Tiger Woods’ forgettable U.S. Open?

Not much.

He didn’t play well. He hit the ball decently, but he never got comfortable on the greens. Tiger had 36 putts Saturday when he was in position to move forward and gradually he fell away.

Woods was flat at the Memorial and flat again at Merion. That’s 16 consecutive majors he has played (he missed four in the past five years) without winning.

• It was a big win for swing coach Sean Foley, who has received far more attention for his work with Woods than for his help in elevating Rose’s game.

Rose began working with Foley four years ago and he has become one of the steadiest ball strikers in the game. Foley also works with Hunter Mahan, who had a chance to win until the final four holes.

• Gastonia’s Harold Varner III shot 76-79 to miss the cut in his first U.S. Open and has returned to competing in Monday qualifiers for Web.com tour events as well as playing the eGolf Professional Tour.

“Something good’s going to happen again and I just need to be ready when it does,” Varner said.

Ron Green Jr. is senior writer for Global Golf Post and a contributor to the Charlotte Observer. He can be reached at rongreenjr@gmail.com.
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