PGA Tour Confidential: Justin Rose wins U.S. Open, more heartbreak for Phil
Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
1. Did Justin Rose win the U.S. Open, or did Phil Mickelson lose it?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Justin Rose won it this time. His ballstriking was superior to Phil's and everyone else's. Take Phil's hole-out at the 10th away and he's not all that close. Phil didn't lose it, but he didn't go out and win it. Justin did that.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Justin Rose won the Open today. You don't shoot even par in the final round and back into anything. That said, Phil lost the Open on Friday and Saturday with all of those missed opportunities. He should have been five or six clear of the field when he stepped to the first tee today.
Stephanie Wei, WeiUnderPar.com: Justin Rose won it. Phil lost it with those double-bogeys on the front nine and he didn't take advantage of the momentum from the eagle. Everyone is going to make mistakes at the U.S. Open, but Rose did the best job minimizing his. Wasn't sure how he'd handle the pressure coming down the stretch. Rose could've *easily* thrown it away in those closing holes, but he put on a very gutsy performance. He stood up on the 18th and just piped it, then channeled his inner Ben Hogan on that second shot. He deserves all the credit in the world for that win.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Rose won it. He hit the shots and made the putts. Played the best down the stretch.
Joe Passov, senior editor, travel, Golf Magazine: It pains me to say it, but Rose won it, because historically, this tournament goes to the player who makes the fewest mistakes -- and that was Rose on Sunday. Gosh, though, the trophy was right there on a platter for Phil -- but two awful wedges, shoved tee shots and (barely) missed putts makes you wonder, "what if?"
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: Rose won it. He made clutch birdies on 12 and 13, and his pars on 17 and 18 were even better. This is heartbreaking for Phil -- I think he used that word at least five times in his post-round press conference -- but he didn't cough this one up. Rose was simply the better player on Sunday.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: You shoot even par on Sunday of the U.S. Open, you win it. Mickelson was never in control of the tournament enough to suggest that he handed it to Rose.
2. Looking at the other names on the leaderboard (Mahan, Donald, Stricker, Schwartzel, Horschel) was Rose as deserving of the win, more deserving or less, both from a career perspective and from how he played today?
Van Sickle: It's hard to say Mahan deserved it when he chopped it up on the last four holes. The other guys all fumbled it away early. Rose put up five birdies, a heck of a number at Merion today. The next most deserving might've been Jason Day. He showed me something on the back nine. He's got a lot of years ahead of him to win some majors and he will.
Passov: In terms of how he played, Rose was deserving. He didn't "luck" into anything, and his clutch play at 18 makes him a worthy winner. But it wasn't like we were all sitting around questioning, "When is Justin Rose finally going to win a major?" He was a solid, but not great No. 3 in the world after Bay Hill, and No. 5 coming in to the U.S. Open --without a ton of wins. He's been in the hunt early in many majors, but seldom with three holes to go. I would have rather seen Stricker, Mahan and Donald ahead of Rose and it would have been great to see Golf House ask for Horschel's trousers had he grabbed the title.
Ritter: Rose was due to get a major at some point. He had already won four times on Tour, with more success internationally, and of course he beat Mickelson head-to-head in that epic Ryder Cup singles match last year. That's a pretty solid pedigree. I thought heading into the day that if it wasn't Rose or Phil, it might be Schwartzel, who always seems so unflappable. I was surprised to see him come apart on Sunday.
Wei: It was rough to see Steve Stricker make an 8 early in the round. I think he really deserved it from a career perspective given how he's had a wonderful career yet hasn't broken through at a major. This was probably one of his last chances. Schwartzel already has a major and Donald and Mahan have had comparable records, but Rose was the only one to step up and win it.
Godich: Career accomplishments have nothing to do with this. On a crowded leaderboard, Rose simply played better than anybody. He's a deserving (and humble) champion.
Reiterman: Rose is without a doubt a deserving champion. He'd only won four times on the PGA Tour prior to his victory at Merion, but talk about four handsome trophies -- Memorial, AT&T National, BMW and Doral.
Gorant: Totally deserving. He's had a good career, with some really good wins, and he took the hard road after being pronounced a phenom at 17. He had to go out and learn to be a pro, a transition a lot early risers never make.
3. What was Mickelson's worst miscue coming down the stretch -- the wedge at 13, the approach wedge at 15, the "green" wedge at 15 or the missed putt at 16? Or was it all of those missed drives?
Ritter: I cringed when he pulled wedge instead of putter on 15. It's so "Phil" to try something heroic, but it just didn't seem like the right shot at the right time.
Passov: The rain started to come down pretty hard on the 13th tee -- and to compound the problem, Phil has had trouble with that hole all week. I'm going with his miss at 15, where he admits he didn't finish the swing. An easy 121-yarder uphill -- 20 feet at worse -- and he juices it back into a near-impossible spot.
Wei: It was probably those wedges on No. 13 and 15. First of all, he missed the green with a wedge in his hand and then, to make it worse, he made bogey with a wedge in his hand! I even get mad at myself if I do that. He hit it to places where he didn't give himself a good look at birdie, and to make it worse, he didn't even hit good chips to get up-and-down. On 15 he really had no play, but that might be the toughest green at Merion, especially with the pin placement on the back right. But Phil couldn't get a wedge to a place where he could putt? C'mon.
Gorant: The pulled drive on 18. He was in it until then.
Godich: It was the wedge shot at 13. On the hole where a lot of players were making birdie (or at least getting a good putt at it), he made bogey. And with a wedge in his hand. Rose made birdie there. That's your two-shot swing.
Reiterman: Those two wedge shots, and all those great looks at birdie that burned the edges will haunt Phil for a long time.
4. Is this Mickelson's most heartbreaking loss?
Van Sickle: No, this isn't Phil's worst Open loss. Winged Foot, he gave away with a terrible decision to try to hit it through the trees instead of pitching back to the fairway. He three-putted to boot the Bethpage Black Open that Lucas Glover won and he missed a short birdie putt at 17 when Payne Stewart made his at Pinehurst. He missed too many fairways for a guy hitting hybrids and irons off tees and that cost him. Also, some of his short-game shots, supposedly his specialty, didn't turn out that great. Maybe that was Merion's thick grass, maybe it wasn't.
Ritter: No, that's still Winged Foot in' 06. But this one hurts because you have to wonder if, at 43, this was his last real shot to win one of these.
Wei: I'd have to say yes, though I think Winged Foot comes close. Here it was all set up for him to win -- he was playing well heading into the week, he was up for Father of the Year, he had the 54-hole lead, he had the crowd rooting for him (almost like home-court advantage), and he just didn't get it done. In 2006 he had plenty of more chances to come in his career, but now that he's 43, you have to wonder how many times he'll put himself in this position again to get that elusive U.S. Open win. Maybe one or two, but the clock is ticking.
Godich: I think so. He played so well (and so smart). I never would have guessed that the putter would let him down. What has to make it especially tough to swallow was that he rolled a slew of good putts over the last three days that just didn't drop.
Passov: Winged Foot was more heartbreaking. As awful as he played that day in New York, the tournament just felt like it was his, and the way he blew it was almost as comical as it was tragic. He's been through so much personally since then, I think this one is easier to take, when you put all of the events in his life in perspective.
Reiterman: Without a doubt. He should have won this U.S. Open going away.
Gorant: No, it'll be tough to top Winged Foot. He had the trophy all but packed in the G5 there.
5. Tiger Woods is now 18-over par in his last four weekend rounds at the U.S. Open. Why can't Tiger Woods close anymore in majors when he's near the lead?
Godich: Tiger is pressing. You could see it during his front nine on Thursday. Thursday! And over the past 20 years, he has set the bar ridiculously high for himself. I wonder if he isn't at last feeling the grind. We're so accustomed to watching him putt aggressively, gunning birdie putts five feet past because he knew he would always make the comebacker. Not anymore. I think he's still got a couple more majors in him, but he's an old 37.
Passov: He can't find a fairway on the par 5s so he can't dominate them the way he used to, and he can't seem to hole two putts in row to build the momentum he needs to sustain him on a tougher-than-normal course.
Van Sickle: Tiger didn't have his ballstriking in line. I hate excuses but I'm going to let him off the hook with this one, given his poor performance at Memorial, too, and assume he really did have a bad elbow that was affecting his play. He wasn't able to control his shots into the proper parts of the green and at Merion, if you didn't have a nice uphill putt, you had a nightmare.
Gorant: Not sure, but I hope he's seeking professional help at this point. Definitely seems like the problem is upstairs at this point.
Wei: I think it's gotten to that point where he's getting in his own way because he wants No. 15 so badly. Tiger can win the Farmers Insurance Open, Arnie's tourney, a WGC and even the Players Championship, but at the end of the day, those aren't majors and he'd gladly trade all four trophies for a major one. When the going gets tough, he starts pressing and when he can't get the momentum back, he becomes even more frustrated. In regard to his actual game, his iron and wedge play are still too sloppy. He needs to give himself more opportunities to make birdies instead of trying to scramble for those pars. He's simply putting too much pressure on the putter and has been all year. Plus, as we saw with his clearly aggravated elbow, his body ain't holding up all that well.
Reiterman: I'm on board with Michael Bamberger and Johnny Miller - he wants it too badly. (Although hitting drives in the rough and missing putts hurts, too.)
Ritter: He's had various things go haywire at majors in the last five years, but the most consistent problem is still putting. He just isn't getting them to drop anyone in majors when he really needs them. The final tally from this week: 128 putts, and five three-jacks. Not nearly good enough.
6. Many "people who know things" -- including some PGA Tour pros -- thought that today's long-hitting Tour pros would destroy cozy little Merion. Why were they so wrong?
Van Sickle: Tough, twisting, super-fast greens are always a defense. There was also a bit of wind two days. The pins were on knobs and crests and, frankly, some crazy spots. With where the pins were, you could give a pro 18 12-footers for birdie and they still couldn't have shot 63. It was the setup.
Ritter: Seemed to me that a lot of small alterations added up to one tough course. Longer-than-normal fairway grass that reduced spin, the juicy rough, those tough pins, the slick greens. Add U.S. Open pressure to the mix and one-over par is your winning score.
Passov: Today's pros have forgotten how to manage these old-time U.S. Open setups. Truly brutal rough, weather that made for tougher hole locations and greens with harder-to-read breaks made for a frustrating, confidence-sapping scoring week for most. It was hardly unfair -- and the final tally didn't come close to Oakmont or Winged Foot (+5) and matched the +1 yielded by Olympic's goofy setup last year -- but I think most underestimated how really, really hard the hard holes would play.
Wei: Because Merion is brutally hard and the course plays much longer than the yardage. I played it a few years ago from 6,100 yards and felt like it was at least 6,600 yards. I'd say this setup this week played around 7,600 yards. The greens are really grainy and hard to read, and they're also easy to three-putt. It proves that a golf course doesn't need to be 7,500 yards to be a good test. Perhaps some of those pins were questionable, but the greens are extremely severe, anyway. Merion is one tough broad! Can you imagine if the course were playing firm and fast?!
Godich: There is no substitute for accuracy. Merion may have only measured 6,996 yards, but the difficult holes were really difficult. If you didn't capitalize on the middle stretch of holes, you were in trouble.
Reiterman: They forgot the greens aren't flat at Merion. Also, there was no graduated rough this year.
Gorant: The USGA pushed the setup as much as they could, and it looked to me that the course had more subtleties -- canted fairways, angled greens, etc. -- that presented more difficulty than originally imagined. Also, turns out the place drains pretty darn fast.
7. David Graham wins in 1981 with tiny-headed wood woods at 7-under par. Justin Rose wins by two at plus 1. Did the USGA go too far in its course setup in an effort to protect par, in order to bolster its claim that Merion, and sub-7,000-yard courses are still relevant? Do you see the U.S. Open returning to Merion anytime soon?
Passov: I guess there were lots of logistical issues, but there will probably be enthusiasm for returning. I'm glad that the course held up, but it was due to a bunch of hard holes playing ridiculously tough through length, rough and greens not quite receptive to such long shots, rather than the design itself that allowed Merion to hold its own. I say I'm glad it held up, because golf embraces its history so much that people and players deserve to see Merion on the big stage on a semi-regular basis. You can't always compare fairly, but even with the added length since '81, the pros should have been able to go lower than plus 1, so yes, I think the USGA overcooked it a bit. That said, once a year, most of these guys -- and many fans -- love a good grind-fest, and this year's U.S. Open delivered big-time.
Godich: The detractors would have had a stronger argument if Merion had played firm and fast. We're talking about the U.S. Open. It's supposed to be hard. And yet, with the intriguing mix of holes, there were plenty of birdie opportunities out there. Merion deserves a spot in the Open rota.
Ritter: The course wasn't unfair, but it turned out to be the toughest test the pros are likely to face this season, just as it should be. But I'm torn on whether they should return. The course is sweet, but the logistics were extremely difficult. The players' lounge was a local home, and it was tough for fans to roam around and see a lot of golf. Also, I've developed a nervous tick just from hearing the word "shuttle."
Reiterman: I thought No. 3 at 266 yards on Sunday was ridiculous and it seemed some of the fairways were pinched in too tight. But it also seemed like guys had plenty of opportunities to make birdies. However, I don't know if it makes sense logistically to come back to Merion for a while. The area residents had to give up a lot to make this U.S. Open work. It will be interesting to see if they' be willing to do it again.
Wei: Naw, the USGA didn't go too far to protect par, though I do see Zach Johnson's point with the course being too manipulated. However, luck is always a factor. (Think Tiger's ball bouncing off the flagstick at the Masters.) I didn't think Merion was more severe than some of the other setups I've seen the last few years. I can see it coming back only because a member told me the USGA has already begged the club to return. This Open withstood the test of time, and in the end, turned out well, though it looked dicey at moments, like with the drainage, the potential of no. 11 flooding, and the awful logistics.
Gorant: Can't see a return soon, as the logistics were crazy and the USGA did take a financial bath. Not sure the final scores prove anything though. The questions that existed before last week remain.
Van Sickle: The USGA and Merion folks overdid it in their effort to prove Merion up-to-date. Those pin positions were straight out of a Superintendent's Revenge outing. Way over the top and unnecessary. Merion was good enough to stand on its own and didn't need a number of absurd pin positions. Also, three par 3s over 250 was a bit much. I don't think No. 3 was designed to play 266 into the wind and make many players hit driver. The 18th at 530 uphill into the wind was a bit much, too. They made sure with the setup that scores were high. No one knew how severe it was going to be. Merion got a full-blown facelift when all it needed was a little bit of makeup. The Opens are already booked through 2020. I'm not sure we'll see another one at Merion. The logistics were staggeringly bad for players, officials, media and fans.