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It's a Tie: Rose & Merion Are Co-Winners of 113th U.S. Open
[Cybergolf's Marino Parascenzo and Jay Flemma and are in Ardmore, Pa., for this week's U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club. Here's Marino's final installment.]
You can dine in the quiet elegance at Ralph's in South Philadelphia or in the open-air charm of Trattoria Totaro on the sidewalk on a dark residential street in Conshohocken. You can always have the Eagles and the Sixers and the Phillies, and William Penn looking down on it all. But will the U.S. Open ever return to Merion?
The debate over that question began long before this 113th U.S. Open even began, the reservations being that Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., was too short, too confining and just not up to the test of modern golfers with modern equipment in their hands.
Maybe Ben Hogan could make history with a 1-iron in the 1950 U.S. Open, but that was then and this is now. And, ahem, not to mention it, but money is also a consideration. The United States Golf Association showed its devotion to tradition by bringing this Open to Merion, and making a reported $10 million less than it might have elsewhere.
If they paid off on drama, this Open would have been Fort Knox and the crown jewels of the United Kingdom rolled into one. The frantic battle down the final round, down the final stretch even, was a violin string wrapped to the breaking point. And the tension didn't end until Phil Mickelson's pitch at the last hole rolled past the cup, leaving Justin Rose with the championship and the first Englishman to win it since Tony Jacklin in 1970.
It was a promise that took a lot of fulfilling. Rose, always engaging, always working, came to the world's attention in the 1998 British Open when he was an aw-shucks 18-year-old amateur and holed a shot from the rough on the final hole to tie for fourth. That stamped him as a guy who would win a major. It just took a while.
He did it with a hard-way par-70 - five birdies and five bogeys, for a two-shot win over Mickelson and Jason Day. Along the way, all sorts of challengers found their way into the trash heap.
Former Masters champ Charl Schwartzel, for example. He birdied the first hole and then just spun out on a crazy run. Steve Stricker, sentimental favorite of many, hit his tee shot out-of-bounds at No. 2, then hit a wedge out-of-bounds, made 8 and was gone. Luke Donald plunged into the morass starting at No. 4.
With Rose at their heels, it was Mickelson and Hunter Mahan trying to keep up down the final stretch. Mahan played the last four in 4-over, and Mickelson bogeyed both the dinky little 13th and the tough 15th with a wedge in hand, leaving him needing a birdie or two down the uncompromising final three. A tee shot into the rough at the 18th doomed the three-time Masters champion to his sixth runner-up finish at the U.S. Open.
Elsewhere, there were some toothsome sideshows, for those who like tribulation.
The "Resurrection of Tiger Woods" was put on hold. And he was doing so well, too. With four wins already this year, he was the huge favorite coming in to get his fourth U.S. Open and 15th major, another step in a pilgrimage to break Jack Nicklaus' all-time record of 18. In his 73-70 start, Woods hit 10 of the 14 driving fairways both days - pretty good for him, and averaged 12 greens hit in regulation.
He was just four shots off the lead A few putts and a couple of glares ought to do it.
There are a number of ways to view the 76 he shot in the third round: He tied his all-time worst U.S. Open score as a pro; he hadn't broken 70 in his last 11 weekend rounds at a major, and since losing to Y.E. Yang in the 2009 PGA Championship Woods has broken 70 only three times out of 23 rounds in the majors.
Another way of looking at that 76 is that it stuffed him. In the final round, he birdied No. 1, then made 8 at the par-5 second with an out-of-bounds off the tee and a three-putt, made four bogeys and two birdies the rest of the way for a 74, finishing at 13-over 293 and ending a week in which a par 70 was his best score. "It was a good week," Woods said.
Despite his trials, Woods thought Merion a worthy course. "I'm sure it [the Open] will come back," he said. "It could definitely host another major championship. But I don't know if the USGA wants to. They make a lot of money on other venues."
Meanwhile, it was a good thing for cattle farmers that Sergio Garcia wasn't out deer hunting around the 14th and 15th holes, both par-4s. He had five OB balls and a four-putt at that juncture. He played the 14th in 6-4-5-7, and the 15th in what has to be a record feat - 8-4-10-4. All told, he was 16-over on these two holes.
"You take that away, and I played well," said Garcia, ever the whimsical lad. He finished with a 74 for a 15-over 295 total. The Spaniard walked over to a fan coming to the 18th. "Somebody shouted, 'Did you make another 8?' " he said. "And I just went over and gave her my signed glove."
She was lucky. A woman had to get flattened by Luke Donald's tee shot back at No. 3 on Sunday to get a glove.
Merion was doubted from the minute it was announced as the 2013 venue, and the doubts continued right up to the minute before they hit the opening shots.
Would an Open ever return?
Mike Davis, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, was calling Merion "magical" in his early statements, but reserved the right to hedge. He wanted to see how this modern test run would work out.
"But personally, I'd already like to see us return," he said. "We haven't seen anything that would say 'No, we won't come back here.' "
The 1974 U.S. Open was called "The Massacre at Winged Foot," where the course was set up so hard that 7-over won. Predictions were that when the modern pros descended with their modern equipment, this would be "The Massacre of Merion."
Then heavy rains hit, supposedly rendering the course even more vulnerable. The ball wouldn't roll as far, true, and it wouldn't roll into the rough, either.
But Merion yanked the rug out from all the soothsayers. The USGA orchestrated the course magnificently.
While the golfers expected "Merrily We Roll Along," Merion gave them the theme from "The Exorcist."
Paul Casey, after a third-round 72, said of Merion: "(The low-scoring talk) was cracking all the guys up at the beginning of the week," the Brit said. "Guys like Frank Nobilo [Golf Channel] saying it's going to be 62s or 63s around here. And we didn't know which golf course he was talking about, because we knew this was going to be a brutal test. I'd love that we could come back to more and more short courses, just as this."
It was left for the USGA's Mike Davis, in his post-mortem, to set the record straight.
How did Merion do?
"Wonderfully," he said. "Absolutely, like a lot of us though, it stood the test of time. It's always been short relative to other championship sites, and it's always held its own. It's a great test of golf, and we knew it would be.
"From a stroke-play average, it was the second-hardest, next to Oakmont. So we have known all along that it was going to hold its own."
Would it ever come back to Merion?
"I would say - I mean early reviews from our side would be, absolutely," Davis said.
Marino Parascenzo can assure you that hanging around with great and famous pro golfers does nothing to help your game. They just won't give you the secret. But it makes for a dandy career. As a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (now retired), Parascenzo covered the whole gamut of sports - Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Pitt, Penn State and others - but golf was his favorite. As the beat writer for the paper, he covered all the stateside majors and numerous other pro events, and as a freelancer handled reporting duties for the British Open and other tournaments overseas - in Britain, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and Malayasia. Marino has won more than 20 national golf-writing awards, along with state and regional honors. He has received the Memorial Tournament's Golf Journalism Award and the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines, among them Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and in anthologies and foreign publications. He also wrote the history of Oakmont Country Club. Parascenzo is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is on its board of directors. He is the founder and chairman of the GWAA's Journalism Scholarship Program. He is a graduate of Penn State and was an adjunct instructor in journalism at Pitt.