Date: June 19, 2013
Author: Mike Clayton /

Clayton: Precise Rose in full bloom at Merion

The U.S Open has always been the game s most brutal test. There is such reverence for the four-time champion Ben Hogan and the way he played that the arrangement of the courses is designed to find the most precise the most Hogan-like player. Merion is a relatively short course but it has a number of incredibly difficult holes and those who predicted lower than usual scores failed to account for toll they would take on the best players in the game. Being so short, and out of Championship golf since 1981, the club and those holding the championship were clearly determined to prove its relevance. If the aim was to manipulate the course to ensure par figures was the winning total they achieved exactly what they wanted. You can argue forever whether the golf was interesting to watch. Some adore the annual struggle for the Open. Perhaps their joy borders on the macabre. Others prefer to see players given a little more freedom both from the tee and around the greens. For me, Merion is unquestionably a brilliant piece of golf course design but the obsession with a winning total around par and the consequent abundance of long green grass makes for a spectacle full of tension but one that makes for slow, grinding golf and ultimately one free of much worthwhile strategy. For a course to champion strategy it needs some width so players are somewhat free to decide where they are going to play. So narrow was Merion that the only choice was how far down a straight line you were prepared to play the tee shots. The champion is Englishman Justin Rose. Here is a tremendous player with one of the most reliable temperaments and techniques in the game. No one since Hogan has really played like Hogan but Rose plays with precision in a world of power. Not that he lacks power but when it came down to it at the end he was the one who hit the perfect drive and the perfect approach into the famed 18th hole. Rose was fourth in the 1997 Open Championship when, unbelievably, he was a seventeen year old. He turned pro the next week and missed every cut for something like the entire length of a football season. Seventeen is too young to be out on the Tour and Rose clearly had a hard time of it. He worked with diligence and intelligence and has been helped by Sean Foley, a Canadian teacher made famous through his employment by Tiger Woods. Phil Mickelson was tied for second with Jason Day. Three times now Day has had chances to win major championships. Two of them have been at Augusta and he was also the far-back second place finisher behind Rory McIlroy at Congressional in 2011. Day will clearly have many more opportunities. Mickelson though is 43 and six times now he has been second in his national Open. He thought Merion suited his game but surely next year at Pinehurst with its wide fairways and its set of greens that most see as the most difficult in the game will offer the left-handed crowd favourite another chance. The great Sam Snead, Hogan s most talented rival never won the U.S Open. Four times he was second and once as a young man he only needed a five at the final hole to win and he conspired to make an eight. Mickelson has perhaps three or four more realistic opportunities to win or go down in history, just like Snead, as and one of the best, but most tragic, Open figures. Finally there is Woods. He last triumphed in a major championship in 2008. He was 33 years old and when he limped off that 91st green of that Open no one thought he would go this long without another. Most still assume there are more championships to come but they would do well to remember two brilliant players from the past. In 1964 a 34 year-old Arnold Palmer blew away the field at the U.S Masters and in 1983 Tom Watson, then 34 won his fifth British Open at Birkdale. It was unimaginable that either man would not carry on and win more but by their mid-thirties they were finished as major champions. Surely Woods isn t finished. But nor surely were Palmer and Watson.