Irish stars can't stand the heat in damp squib
WITH the notable exception of amateur Kevin Phelan, Ireland's golfers gave a less than satisfactory account of themselves at the 113th US Open.
After three years of stellar achievement at this event, in which Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy secured back-to-back wins in 2010 and 2011 and G-Mac finished runner-up at Olympic last summer, this year's championship was a real damp squib from the Irish perspective.
Still, the successful return of the US Open after 32 years to the historic East Course at Merion, a venue long considered too small and compact to accommodate a modern Major championship, certainly did no damage to the cause of Royal Portrush as a future venue for the British Open.
Sacrifices were made all around to ensure last weekend's event was a success.
For example, the practice range and temporary locker room were a long shuttle ride from the first tee, while dining and other facilities for the players were sited in private houses and gardens rented for a reported $45,000 each.
The USGA absorbed an estimated $10m reduction in gate receipts as attendances were limited to 25,000 per day and, in certain areas of the course, it was quite cramped for spectators who opted not to take one of 15,000 grandstand seats.
The media faced the equivalent of a 3,000m cross-country trek through mud and puddles to the post-round interview area, while just one player graced the huge interview room in the media centre from Thursday to Sunday – newly crowned major champion Justin Rose.
Yet the unanimous view from Rose, at one-over-par, down through a severely tested field, was that the US Open should return to the East Course soon.
"No doubt, some of the logistics were awkward but I'd put up with a little inconvenience to play such a good course," said Padraig Harrington. "It was a big test and I think it played super all week. The greens were really difficult but I'm just glad they weren't firm and fast."
By staging a successful US Open within its tight, 125-acre confines, Merion proved that if there's ever a will on the part of the R&A, there'll be a way for the British Open to return to Portrush.
T21, 73 71 75 72, +11
Harrington revelled in the gruelling challenge, saying: "I wish every week was a US Open." He finished seventh in putting with an average 29.50 per round and performed well from long range on difficult greens, but was annoyed not to convert more birdie chances. At 41, it seems as if time's moved on for this great Irish warhorse at the Majors.
T41, 73 70 75 76, +14
Everything seemed to be going McIlroy's way when torrential rain leading up to the tournament made the East Course more yielding than Congressional, scene of his record-breaking victory two years ago. Yet the 24-year-old's form and confidence was too brittle for a typically relentless US Open set-up, while he let himself down badly with his on-course petulance on Sunday.
T62, 71 77 78 74, +20
Phelan (22) has matured greatly since qualifying for his first US Open in 2010. Disappointed not to have stuck to his game plan at Pebble Beach, he showed remarkable self-control and patience in emerging as Ireland's top scorer from the first round; then by making the cut and ultimately by landing more birdies (seven) than Harrington. Case stated for the Walker Cup.
Missed Cut, 76 77, +13
By his own admission, McDowell had a bad week as he missed the cut for the first time in eight appearances at the US Open. "I'm pretty far over-par but it's that hard, it's that difficult and it's that long," said the Portrush man, who had seven double-bogeys in 36 holes. One will always wonder how G-Mac might have performed had Merion played as fast and furious as the organisers had intended.
Missed Cut, 80 75, +15
After a season undermined by injury, Clarke was ring-rusty as he stepped into the intimidating arena of the US Open for the first time in four years. Just three-over after 10 holes of his first round, he then racked up three birdies, two bogeys, a double-bogey and two triples. Clarke's second-round 75 was solid by comparison.