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Lateral Hazard: Justin Rose worthy of his starring role in the Phil-adelphia Story

Brian Murphy
Yahoo Sports

If we're going to be deprived of the visceral thrill of a Phil Mickelson U.S. Open triumph; if we're going to be baffled silly by the ongoing major championship disappearance of former majordomo Tiger Woods; if we're going to watch Merion bludgeon the world's best players into a bloody, pulpy mess, then we will happily, enthusiastically embrace the only storyline remaining:

A classy, touching and fully fitting win for Justin Rose, a first-time major champ about whom people wonder which is better – his golf swing, or the way he handles life and those he encounters.

Throw in similar sentiments for Adam Scott's Masters win earlier this year, and we have a theme for our 2013 Majors: Likable, Gentlemanly, Deserving Players Only Need Apply.

It's easy to get maudlin about Rose's story, but an appropriate amount of sentiment isn't the wrong thing to feel. Many of us have lost parents too soon, or have parents fading into the sunset. So, to see Rose – who lost his father, coach and caddie, Ken, at age 57 in 2002 – acknowledge his 70th and final stroke at Merion on Sunday with a kiss of the golf ball, a point to the sky, a shutting of his eyes, and a welling of tears was a powerful thing, indeed. He would later say it wasn't lost on him that it was Father's Day, and that he couldn't help but think "my old Dad Ken had something to do with it."

There was some serious blinking going on in the Murphy family living room around that time.

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Justin Rose poses with the trophy after winning the U.S. Open. (AP)

But, heartstrings are one thing. Golf is another.

If the golf gods wanted to play the emotional game full-bore, we'd have seen Philly Mick hold it together on the back nine Sunday, setting Merion askew with roars and cheers for the now-six-time runner-up at the U.S. Open, the 'PHIL-adelphia Story' climaxing with his first national open in dramatic style.

So, of course, in the end, it has to be about the golf at the U.S. Open. At Merion, where Ben Hogan striped the 1-iron, if you don't have game, don't bother showing up.

Justin Rose? The 5th-ranked player in the world? The guy who cut out Mickelson's heart in the final three holes of the Ryder Cup Sunday singles last fall with putts as gutsy as the Medinah crowd was loud?

Yeah. Justin Rose has game. Tons of it. And it was never better – not when he won the Memorial in 2010, or at Cog Hill in the FedEx playoffs in 2011, or the WGC event at Doral last year – than on Sunday at Merion, when a penal USGA setup, a rough in which you could lose small children, suffocating pressure – and a mid-round rain storm, to boot – made for damn near impossible conditions.

Rose's answer was that stone-cold assassin's round of even-par 70, the best score by any player in the final four twosomes. Only Jason Day's 71 came close. Other contenders like Charl Schwartzel (78), Steve Stricker (76), Billy Horschel (74) and, yes, Lefty himself (74) couldn't come close to the golf Rose played.

Though Rose was listed as 9-to-1 as late as Sunday morning by oddsmakers, a savvy punter would have noted that Merion's No. 1 demand was accuracy off the tee, and Rose, top-20 on Tour in accuracy, obliged, time and time again. He hit 42 of 56 fairways at the 2013 U.S. Open, tie-2nd in the field. Questions have dogged Rose about his putting under pressure, but he seems now to be coming to a place where his nerves and his stroke are joining forces. Just ask Phil from last year's Ryder Cup. At Medinah, Rose did everything but go Sly-Stallone-in-"Cobra" on Lefty and say: "You're a disease. … I'm the cure," when he drained those monster putts right in Phil's grill on 16, 17 and 18 to win that key point for Europe.

We can talk about Rose's cross-country putt on No. 6 Sunday for birdie, or his this-might-be-my-day side-door job for bird on No. 7. We could talk even more about him hearing the roar for Mickelson's hole-out eagle on No. 10, then answering by stuffing his approach on No. 12 for a kick-in birdie.

We could talk even more about his birdie on the short par-3 13th, a hole Mickelson bogeyed by flying the green. And we could talk even more about his keeping cool under fire, hitting iron off the tee on No. 15 when O.B. lurked, laughing at players down the left side. Rose made a savvy par by splitting that fairway. (That was a hole Lefty bogeyed with a wedge from 122 yards. Ouch.)

But really, when the winter rains come, and Rose is tossing another log on the Christmas fireplace and staring at the U.S. Open trophy as he sinks into a bottle of red wine, he might want to cue up the DVD to his 17th and 18th holes at Merion. That wicked par-3 17th hole, the 246-yard hole begging for a bogey, was tamed by Rose with a tee shot to about 10 feet, pin high, sitting up in the rough. He nearly chipped in, and he made par.

And then 18, with a one-shot lead, and the tee shot Johnny Miller called on NBC "the most important tee shot of his life" – to say Rose was fully committed to that drive would be to understate how intensely his golf swing melded with the moment, how his body did everything right under the most intense of pressures, how all his training and "childhood dreams,"as he would later say, produced one of the great drives you'd ever want to see on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open. The center cut of the fairway seemed to say to Rose, "Yes, yes, that was pure. Let us place it right on our belly for you. Well done, good sir."

He wasn't done. Bogey remained a distinct possibility if he missed the green, or came up short, on the 521-yard beast. And it didn't help that his playing competitor Luke Donald was fumbling around on the hole, leaving Rose to stand in the fairway, near the Hogan plaque, thinking about how his life led to that moment, how his father wasn't here, how he much he missed him, and how much he wanted to make his two little kids proud, and himself proud and his Dad proud, and then finally, that golf swing – a 4-iron approach from 200-plus yards out that landed on the fat of the green and cozied to a nice spot on the back collar, some 12 feet from the cup.

Awesome golf, it was. He damn near jarred his 3-wood chip – another smart play – and tapped in for a par-par finish that was unmistakably brilliant. It was all so good he couldn't contain himself. He surrendered to his emotions, and looked skyward. Surely, he felt something when he did, an otherworldly energy, and the sweet rush of a job well done.

SCORECARD OF THE WEEK

70-74-68-71 – 3-over 283, Jason Day, tie-2nd, 113th United States Open, Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pa.

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Jason Day reacts after a putt on the 15th hole during Round 4 of the U.S. Open. (AP)

There were so many candidates for Scorecard of the Week in a deeply interesting week. There was Steve Stricker's bid at age 46, ending in a shank-you-very-much hurry. There was Luke Donald braining a standard-bearer, later having to play a shot from the water and fading fast. There was Charl Schwartzel, rocking the Masters diploma from 2011 and the chest hair from Burt Reynolds' 1970s prime, inexplicably shooting 78. And of course, there was the man himself, Phil Mickelson's 74. But Yahoo's Eric Adleson had the Lefty story for you, so I'm turning to the other player who silver medalled at Merion – Day, the 25-year-old Australian who has only one career win in 115 PGA Tour starts, but is turning into a beast at major championships.

Plus, he played himself into contention despite the fact that his playing group competitor, Billy Horschel, wore navy slacks with white octopi all over them. I'm not kidding. One wag called him 'Billy the Squid'. Horschel wore the octopus pants, then shot 74, which wasn't an awful score. Had he shot 80, we could have called the trousers, "The Calamari Calamity." Still, it had to take some amount of concentration for Day to focus on his golf shots, and not an eight-legged creature on his buddy's pants nearby.

By finishing tie-2 with a final-round 71, Day has now finished 2nd or 3rd in four of his last nine majors. He has five top-10s in his last 10 majors. And he now is the only guy who has held the lead on the back nine Sunday in both 2013 majors. When Day birdied 10 at Merion, he was tied for the lead. And at Augusta, he had sole possession of the lead on the 16th tee. For a guy only two years older than Rory (Tie for 41st When I'm Not Bending Clubs) McIlroy, it's tall cotton.

Of course, this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, all praise and glory to Day for playing his best in the most intense tournaments; to inserting himself into the conversation late on Sundays at majors. On the other hand, he's knocked on the door a few times now, and come up short each time. Ouch.

At Augusta, he bogeyed 16 and 17 and left the door open for a Scott-Angel Cabrera playoff. At Merion, he bogeyed 11 (albeit with a chip-in), 14 and 18. Again, no shame in playing the last five holes at Merion 2-over on Sunday, and his round of 71 was only one off Rose's 70. But I'm sure now that Day has tasted the Sunday heat at a major, he's dying to cash in. He's got a lot of moxie, and probably is staring at the calendar, waiting for Muirfield's British Open next month like a puppy waiting for dinner time.

BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK

"The U.S. Open. It just takes you out of your comfort zone, doesn't it?" – Peter Jacobsen, NBC.

'Jake' made the comment, which can either be greeted with a friendly, 'You can say that again' or heckled with a, 'No (manure),' response, after watching yet another player implode at Merion. Whether it was Donald putting one off that young woman's noggin on No. 3, and later having to remove his shoe and sock to play a shot from a creek; whether it was McIlroy putting a golf ball into a creek then destroying a club in anger; whether it was Stricker pumping a tee shot O.B. on No. 2, then hitting the dreaded hosel rocket after that en route to a triple bogey; it was 'Merion Mayhem' all over the golf course.

In fact, Miller's droll observation post-Stricker shank – "the shot after a shank is no bargain, either" – damn near won B.M.O.W. honors for its wicked, dry humor.

At any rate, if the USGA wondered whether 6,900-yard Merion could still make the world's best players break out into hives, wonder no more. All you need is insane amounts of thick rough, bone-thin fairways, a creek or two, some O.B. just paces away from a fairway, and you have figurative car wrecks all over the place. Even Tiger Woods, the master of patience and strategy, shot 76-74 on the weekend to finish T-32.

While Mickelson mostly loved the place – his weeklong love fest with the USGA had a brief hiccup on Sunday when he admonished a USGA official for the 274-yard par-3 setup on the 3rd hole – not everyone did. Zach Johnson, normally mild-mannered and the kind of player who would thrive at a U.S. Open, criticized the USGA setup as "manipulative," and added more unkind words for the boys from Far Hills, N.J.

The USGA can say: Scoreboard, Zach. The winner was the fifth-ranked player in the world; the runner-up was one of the most beloved players in the game's history; and Ernie Els, Luke Donald and Jason Dufner all finished in the top 10.

Moreover, the USGA continued its 80-year streak of being the 'Anti-Masters'. As they watch Augusta National play for eagles and birdies and roars, the USGA loves being the mean high school teacher that doesn't allow you to talk in class, makes you re-do your homework, makes you write 'I will hit a fairway' on the chalkboard 100 times – and hopes that when you get an 'A' from them, it means more than any other class.

MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK

Oh, Phil.

Oh, Phil; oh, Phil; oh, Phil.

How heartbreaking was it for you to not only finish 2nd for a sixth time at the U.S. Open, but for you to rue two wedges – of all things! – as your undoing.

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Phil Mickelson (right) and caddie Jim Mackay react after their final round of the 113th U.S. Open. (USA Today)

I'm torn between giving M.O.W. to the 13th hole or the 15th hole, both errant wedges from 122 yards that cost Lefty his coveted national championship. I think the 13th hole was the more egregious of the two, so let's focus on that one.

The teensy, tiny little hole was, statistically, the easiest hole on the course. A favorable pin and an easy yardage meant the hole actually played at an average of 2.81 strokes, under par for the week.

What happened? Lefty engaged in one of those super-serious, audible-to-the-boom-microphones with his loyal caddie, Jim (Bones) Mackay for a long time on that hole. It seemed to be too long, in fact. And it was too long. So long, that Lefty and Bones talked themselves into either the wrong club or the wrong mindset, because Mickelson inexplicably flew the green into the rough – and made bogey, one of only 39 bogeys all week there. That Rose birdied that hole means a two-stroke swing took place on the 13th hole that arguably cost Mickelson the United States Open.

So let's go back out to that 13th tee box, remind Phil and Bones not to overthink matters, remind them that paralysis-by-analysis is a real thing, tell Lefty he birdies this hole in his sleep and … give that Mickelson a mulligan!

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

As always is the case with a post-majors week, everybody is too wrung out to think about where we go next. If you must, the Tour heads to TPC Highlands in Connecticut for the Travelers Championship. Amazingly, Rose is scheduled to be there; albeit in a daze of adrenaline and sleep-deprived giddiness.

Mickelson will not be there. He will be home, licking his wounds, thinking about what might have been. After Merion, I think we all need a nap.

More U.S. Open coverage from Yahoo! Sports
U.S. Open heartbreak find Phil Mickelson a sixth time
No. 2 dooms Steve Stricker's bid at major history
Phil Mickelson gives USGA official a piece of his mind over tee placement
Luke Donald hits volunteer in the head with errant shot

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