Tuesday 20 February 2018

Rose blooms as Mickelson comes up short again

Karl MacGinty at Merion

JUSTIN ROSE brilliantly denied American idol Phil Mickelson the greatest birthday party and Father’s Day celebration of all time, instead sending England into raptures with a stunning two strokes victory at the US Open.

Mickelson, 43 yesterday, had been feted with noisy renditions of ‘Happy Birthday To You’ on all 18 tees yesterday but, in truth, one of the sport’s most extravagantly gifted players did not play celebration golf.

As gentleman Rose, 32, drew on all his skill, concentration and composure to post an even par 70 on one of the shortest but toughest courses in recent memory at the US Open, Mickelson had to be satisfied with a four-over par 74.

All week it seemed as if his name was on the trophy as Mickelson surged to an opening 67 on the East Course at Merion last Thursday, just hours after completing a trans-continental journey to his native San Diego and back to attend his daughter’s eighth grade graduation.

Instead, Mickelson must content himself with a record sixth runner-up finish at his national Open and the thought that as age and an arthritic condition work against him, the US Open trophy might never rest on his mantelpiece.

In contrast, Rose, who was born in Johannesburg and moved to England when he was five, ended a lengthy drought at the Majors for his adopted country, who hadn’t tasted success in the Grand Slam arena since Nick Faldo won the 1996 Masters … that’s 68 Majors.

Since 1998, when Rose registered a brilliant fourth place finish as 17-year-old amateur at the British Open at Royal Birkdale, his Major Championship pedigree appeared clear … even if he endured a nightmare first couple of years as a professional.

These days Rose, now a six time winner on the US Tour, is firmly ensconced in the world’s top-five. He was a leading figure alongside Ian Poulter in Europe’s fantastic Ryder Cup win at Medinah last September, where he pulled off a thrilling singles victory against Mickelson.

Now this gentleman golfer has done it for himself, becoming England’s first winner at the US Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970.

Mickelson carried the entire United States with him on a mazy, crazy roller-coaster ride through the final round.

This left-handed icon of American golf led by one going into the final round of his 21st US Open but couldn’t buy a putt on his outward nine, even three-stabbing twice for double-bogey at the par three third and lengthy par four fifth.

Sandwiched in between was a birdie four at the long fourth but Mickelson appeared to be foundering until a phenomenal pitch-in eagle at the 10th hole sent him scurrying back into contention and setting-up a nail-biting battle down the final eight holes.

After completing the first 11 holes in even par, courtesy of three birdies and thee bogeys, Rose staked his claim for glory with sweet back-to-back birdies at 12 and 13.

That 13th is the last respite before the gruelling final five holes at Merion but Mickelson made a hash of the tiniest par-three in Major Championship golf this year, opting to hit beneath the wind which at that point was driving heavy rain across the tree-tops.

After hitting a low hard shot which skipped  through the green into the back rough, Mickelson did well to make bogey there.

Up ahead, Rose would bogey 14 and when Mickelson holed a 14-footer to save par at 14, followed by a three-putt bogey by the Englishman at 16, both men once again were tied for the lead on one over with Hunter Mahan.

Yet after electing to chip from the front edge of the green at 15, Mickelson thinned his wedge well past the hole, then two putted for the bogey which gave Rose his critical edge.

The Englishman made fighting pars at 17 and 18 to hold Mickelson at bay and one suspects the American regretted leaving the driver out of his bag as he stood on the tee at the 511 yard, par four 18th hole needing a birdie to force a play-off.

Mickelson, who was 30 yards short of the green in two, gave the chip his all and his ball ran through the back, setting-up the bogey which wrapped-up a 74 and left him tied second with Jason Day on three-over.

The Australian, just 25, certainly appears to be made of the right stuff. Though he fell away with three dropped shots in his closing eight holes, he really looks like a Major Champion in the making.

Hunter Mahan had been very much in the picture with Mickelson and Rose until 15, where he drove into the bottomless right rough, hit his approach well short of the green and then three putted for a double bogey six killed off his victory chances.

A brace of bogeys at 17 and 18 dropped Mahan (75) into a share of fourth place on five-over with Jason Dufner (67), Billy Hoschel (74) and Ernie Els (69).

Steve Stricker, who had started the final day in a tie for second with Mahan and Charl Schwartzel one stroke behind Mickelson, could have fancied his chances of becoming, at age 46, the oldest winner at the US Open, until he hit two balls out of bounds on his way to an ugly treble bogey eight at the second hole.

A 76 left Stricker tied eighth with Luke Donald after a 75 by the Englishman.

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