The 113th U.S. Open is in the books and history will show Justin Rose as the winner.
He did win the tournament.
But, the golf course the tournament was contested on was the real winner of the last four days. Only 6800 yards and located on a measly 111 acres, Merion was up to the task of challenging the best golfers in the world. Yes, it required the USGA to stick the pins in some questionable positions on a handful of occasions over the four days, but when you have 360 yard par-four holes, you can’t stick the flags right in the middle of the green or 10-under par will be the typical score. The par-3 third hole was made into a bit of a joke by the USGA, who decided Sunday was the right day to make it a 274-yard hole into the prevailing wind.
That said, when you’re trying to identify the best golfer in the country, it doesn’t hurt to throw a bit of unfair in there to see how everyone handles the friction of questionable pins, fast greens and a pace of play that bordered on silly.
All told — Merion wasn’t an ideal place for spectators, sponsors and, at times, even the players, but tee-to-green the course was among the most memorable spots for a U.S. Open over the last twenty years.
Here’s a quick analysis of the winners and losers from the 2013 U.S. Open:
Winner: Justin Rose — finally broke through to win a major title and get that proverbial “monkey off his back”. Like most major championships, this event at Merion was won by the guy who holed the most putts on the final day. Produced two glorious shots at the 18th hole on Sunday, a fitting way to end a 17-year English drought in major championship golf. Has the game to win any of the other three major championships.
Loser: Hunter Mahan — lost his golf swing in the final hour and went from tied for the lead to taking FOOOORRRRRREEEEVVVVEEEEERRRRRRR to play the final three holes. Someone needs to show him the “While we’re young” commercials. Still a player very capable of claiming a major title but until he does it, questions will loom about his ability to finish off winnable events. Seemed a little “too happy” at the end of the day on Sunday.
Winner: Phil Mickelson — didn’t win, but acquitted himself well on a day when three putts (#1, #2, #16) that coulda-shoulda-woulda turned out to be the difference between winning and losing. Two back-nine wedge shots (tee shot at #13, second at #15) were the ones that did him in, particularly the approach at fifteen which was right in his wheel house with a back right pin that favored his left-to-right ball flight. Dodged the question about Mahan’s slow play potentially distracting him on the final three holes, but it surely couldn’t have helped. Still, at age 43, proved once again he’s among the world’s best when it comes to playing tough courses in sometimes unreasonable conditions.
Loser: Luke Donald — spit the bit early, conking a girl in the elbow at the 3rd hole with his tee shot and never really recovering from that unnerving situation. Played as well as anyone on the back nine, but wasn’t a factor after such a tough start. Still without a major title and now has to start facing those Lee Westwood-type questions of “when are you going to win one?”
Winner: Jason Day — has been one of golf’s best performers in major championships over the last three years. Putting saved him throughout the back nine, but the missed 5-footer and bogey at #18 dropped him to +3 and made the final hole much easier for Justin Rose to stomach. Has become a much better driver of the golf ball, something that held him back when he first showed up on TOUR five years ago. He’s going to win a major soon.
Loser: Rory McIlroy — embarrassed himself by bending his wedge on the 11th hole after a less-than-stellar approach shot. Angrily threw a club earlier in the round after a poor shot, something the USGA will probably address with him in the form of a nice “reminder letter” that champion golfers aren’t expected to behave like that at U.S. Open events.
Winner: Billy Horschel — anyone who has the nerve to wear those pants in front of 25,000 spectators and a hundred million people watching on TV all over the world is a winner just for that alone. Did let his well-known temper get to him late in Saturday’s round and on occasion Sunday as well, but anyone who drives the ball that straight and that far is going to be heard from in major events for a long time to come. Didn’t putt well enough to win, but once he becomes a great putter he’ll be tough to beat.
Loser: Tiger Woods — it’s now five years since his last major title and there’s no relief in sight as long as he continues to putt like a 6-handicap in major tournaments. No matter what denials he offers to the media, his putting in majors isn’t nearly as solid as in “regular” TOUR events, which is why he’s no longer winning them. Never looked comfortable with the golf course from the first tee shot on Thursday. At least he didn’t embarrass himself with junior golf behavior like his Nike-mate, McIlroy, but that’s about the only positive he can take from this week’s event.