American romp at Merion inspired visions of a U.S. Open to come

Tuesday September 15th, 2009
Fowler led the U.S. to a 16 1/2-9 1/2 win.
David Cannon/Getty Images

Ardmore, Pa., June 17, 2013 — In what golf commentators are calling an instant classic, Tour sensation Rickie Fowler, 24, won the U.S. Open over 37-year-old Tiger Woods in an 18-hole playoff here at historic Merion Golf Club. The win, at the club where Fowler dominated the Walker Cup matches four years ago, was Fowler's first victory in a major. Woods remains stuck at 18 professional majors while suffering from what Golf Channel analyst Johnny Miller described as "Jack Nicklausitis."

The two golfers, playing the shortest U.S. Open course in 32 years, were tied through 17 holes in the Monday playoff at four over par. Woods, struggling with the driver, hit a pop-up three-wood on the last that landed on a plaque commemorating Ben Hogan's historic shot in the 1950 Open. The ball took a hideous bounce into the rough on the edge of the clubhouse parking lot. Fowler's drive at 18 flew 100 yards past Tiger's ball, and left him with a 108-yard second shot. He closed with a birdie to Woods's bogey.

"Yeah, I heard all about Hogan from Buddy back in '09," Fowler said, referring to his Walker Cup captain, George (Buddy) Marucci Jr., a Merion member. "And all the way around, Tiger's like, Hogan this and Hogan that and Hogan's one-iron into 18. And I'm like, 'What's a one-iron?'" Fowler hit a sand wedge into 18.

USGA executive director Mike Davis said, "We knew from the Walker Cup that guys would hit some short clubs here, but flip wedge into 18? That's just sick." Still, Davis said that the even-par score of 280 through 72 proved that time-honored courses such as Merion, with its uneven lies and treacherous greens and nasty rough, remain "the best kind of test of a golfer's skill." For the Open, Merion measured just longer than 7,000 yards. In April, Augusta National checked in at 8,253 yards.

For at least a year now, Fowler and Sergio Garcia have been vying for the title of Best Golfer Never to Have Won a Major. In the week after the '09 Walker Cup — at which he won four out of four points — Fowler turned pro and won his first start, the Albertsons Boise Open on the Nationwide tour. He earned his Tour card in that year's Fall Series, and in less than four years on Tour he has won 16 times.

"Tiger said his six straight USGA titles — three junior titles and three U.S. Ams — set up his career," Fowler said. "I'm like, 'Man, that's six years. I got all that done in two good days.'"

Upon hearing that, Woods, a former Walker Cupper himself, shook his head and said, "Kids." He then signed autographs for a half hour in the shade of the Merion clubhouse veranda.

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