Justin Rose hoisted the trophy but make no mistake: the Grande Dame won the U.S. Open.
The little old course that the naysayers were convinced would surrender myriad birdies and microscopic scores looked today’s best players in the eye and stared them down.
Not only did Old Lady Merion reduce a great field to quivering jellies. She refused to allow anyone to break par, a defiant declaration that even after 100 years a great old course can still trump modern technology.
We expect the U.S. Open to be the ultimate test. Remember, the goal of the USGA is to identify the best golfers in the world, not embarrass them. But if a few red faces pop up during the festivities, that’s an enjoyable bonus.
I mean, where else can you see the second-ranked player in the world bend a wedge until it resembles a crossbow? "I think that’s what this tournament does to you," Rory McIlroy said at his post-round press conference, as transcribed by asapsports.com, the source for all the following player quotes. "At one point or another, it’s got the better of you."
Take Steve Stricker. He began the final round at even par coming off a third round of amazing steadiness: one double-bogey, two birdies, and 15 pars. At age 46, he seemed properly poised to claim his first major.
Sunday, he promptly triple-bogeyed the second hole.
"It was a tough day," said Stricker. "It started right away at the second and third holes. I just put a poor swing at number 2, hit it out of bounds. And then hit a good drive and hit my next one out of bounds. Caught it off the hosel and was trying to chase a 4-iron and got ahead of it a little bit.
"Just not the start I was looking for, making triple, and a good triple it was, on the second hole of the day. And then you’ve got to turn right into number 3, and it’s a 260-yard shot into the wind, and starting 4-over after three holes really wasn’t what I had in mind today."
His playing partner, Charl Schwartzel, also began the day at even par. He joined the fun at the third hole, dashing his hopes with a hideous run of bogey, bogey, bogey, double bogey, bogey.
Luke Donald began the day at one-over, and innocently parred the opening two holes. "I hit a drive on the third hole, and pulled it left, and didn’t realize there was anyone over there," Donald said. "I hit her in the elbow. And she was in some pain and felt a little bit faint, and I felt a little bit faint, too, watching it."
So began a swoon of bogey, bogey, bogey, double bogey.
Hunter Mahan, the third player to begin the day at even par, made it through 14 holes relatively unscathed. Only a bogey at number 6 marred his card.
He made up for lost time with a double bogey at 15, and bogeys at 17 and 18. "It was hard," Mahan observed. "It was a difficult test. The pins were brutal. They were sitting on three to four degree slopes. So it was tough. Man, it was brutal out there. It was tough finishing."
Even for those scoring well, Marion eventually got her way. Jason Dufner played the first 14 holes in five under par, moving from eight over into contention at three over.
He walked off the 15th green six over. "It’s a tough angle," Dufner recalled after his five over, fourth place finish. "You’ve got out of bounds literally one pace from the fairway, which is a little unnerving."
No one became more unnerved than the perennial Open runner-up, Phil Mickslson. He led at the end of every round and was the only player to tee off Sunday under par.
The man with five wedges in his bag ultimately became undone by two awful wedge shots, resulting in bogeys at 13 and 15.
"Thirteen, I hit a pitching wedge, and when I was drawing that shot, I had too much club," Mickelson explained. "I needed a gap wedge. I hit too much club there. Then I did hit the gap wedge on 15. I quit on it. Missed it short left."
Always spectacular, Mickelson made his first double bogeys of the week on the third and fifth holes, but reclaimed the lead by holing out — you guessed it — a 75-yard wedge on number 10 for eagle.
But he remained tortured by his putter all day, requiring 36 putts to finish. "The stroke felt fabulous all day, starting at the first hole. I can’t believe that ball didn’t go in. Second hole, I hit a good putt. I hit a good putt for eagle on 4.
"Hit a good putt on six. I thought I made that. I thought I made the one on eight. I thought I made the one on 9. Man! I thought I had a great chance on 12. Certainly, 16, I thought I made. There were a number that could have gone in. And I think only one did, the one for par on 14."
All that torment left the door open for Justin Rose, who managed to match each of five bogeys with a birdie, staying level for his entire round. "I found that was the toughest thing," Rose declared. "Because you could make birdies, you could get ahead on the card, around the middle of the course you could be one or two under.
"No round is safe until you played 18 holes. I’m just glad I was kind of the last man standing."
The man who came closest to standing up to Old Lady Merion.