Justin’s Major future looks Rosey after US Open win!

At marvellous Merion another thrilling US Open Championship came to a conclusion on Sunday 16th June with virtually the winning of the second Major of the year coming down to the last shots. No player was under par, nevermind that, all players were over par! Merion was setup superbly and albeit a relatively short US Open layout in terms of previous venues, the course which has not hosted America’s premier golfing tournament since 1981 tested the World’s best golfers admirably.

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On the course from early on it looked like it could well by Phil’s week, putting to bed those previous 5 second place finishes with most of them being agonising runner up placings! He played conservatively and hit the driver very rarely, a tactic he promised his coach Butch Harmon that he would not waiver from. As the field jostled for position over the first two days it became apparent that Mickelson would be one of the leading contenders along with former World No.1, Luke Donald, his compatriot Justin Rose, Australian Jason Day (looking to emulate his fellow countryman David Graham), 2011 Masters Champ Charl Schwartzel, veteran Steve Stricker and relatively new to contending in the final rounds of a Major – Hunter Mahan and Billy Horschel. By the close of play on Saturday the above players were those considered the only players still in with a shout, players like Tiger, Rory, Sergio and Harrington well out of the contention at the close of play after 54 holes.

The early holes for the leaders was quite something to see – Schwartzel was solid and looked the man to beat early on with birdies and a general calm. Phil narrowly missed birdies and 1 and 2 but posted a double bogey on 3. Luke Donald had a horror start and probably never recovered properly from hitting a standard bearer to the left of the green on 3. The third hole did cause problems all day – playing between a fairway wood and driver for most players in the field! Stricker had a shocker on 2, with a treble-bogey 8 including 2 shots out of bounds. Mahan started solidly with many pars while Horschel appeared as the golfer in the Octopus pants which got more attention than his poor start! Day and Rose did nothing to harm their chances early on, this start giving them the impetus to push on as the Final Round reached the pivotal moments.

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The start at Merion includes 2 par-5s in the first 4 holes but this does not mean you can ease into the round and pick up some easy birdies. The first hole should be at worst a par but with the pin position it meant the good miss was short which left a difficult uphill putt but this was better than a devilishly difficult chip or pitch downhill with little green to work with should you be long with your approach. The 3rd hole was not one of the more popular ones during the week and the final round did not do much to improve this either, 260 yards plus which wasn’t far short of the 10th hole, par-4! As the players got through the tough par-4s in the shape of 5 and 6 the leaderboard had taken the shape that it would pretty much continue in for the remainder of the round, it was more or less down to 4 men – Rose, Mickelson, Mahan and Day.

Phil, who had not held a putt on much consequence on the front 9, continued this trend on the 10th but which a fantastic hole out from the rough for an eagle 2 to take the lead at that stage. More solid golf followed but an errant wedge shot cost him dearly on 13, carrying the green which resulted in a bogey for what was considered one of the last genuine birdie holes on the back 9. Another poor wedge approach resulted in a bogey on 14, lead back with Rose at this stage. Day was hanging in there but a few bogeys at the wrong time on probably the toughest closing stretch in Major Championship golf eventually meant he would finish at 3-over par for the tournament. Rose hit a superb tee shot to 17 to give him a chance of a chip-in birdie from just on the back right fringe but he left this stone dead rather than having a run at it, again pars being priceless over the last few holes. An immaculate tee shot on 18 left Rose in the middle of the fairway, some say he was beside the Hogan plaque (fittingly if so) and some a sprinker head, but his approach to 18 underlined his solid play all day and all week with an arrow-like long iron seeking out the pin and unlucky to run through to the back edge of the green. An expertly played greenside shot with a fairway wood gave him a tap in, unlucky not to post an Even Par total of 280 for the 4 rounds with what could have been a birdie at the last.

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Mahan had been hanging around the lead for a while but a terrible double bogey late on scuppered his chances, he wasn’t the only one struggling over the final holes at Merion though and the closing holes bared their teeth. Phil was now the only golfer left to threaten Rose’s Major hopes coming up 18 after making par on 17 to stay 1 behind. A drive into the left rough looked to have ended Lefty’s opportunity to finally put claim to a first US Open triumph but with his second shot finishing up short of the green it still gave him the chance to pitch in – something that he has been known to do from time to time! Mickelson stalked the pitch for quite a while and eventually played a decent shot, aggressively punched towards the hole but as it raced past the right edge as did his chances and Rose became the first English golfer since 1970 to win the US Open and since 1996 to win a Major!

Everything was indeed Rosey in the garden for Justin at Merion on US Open Sunday!

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2013 Majors Preview – The US Open

The second Major of the year takes place at Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania, USA, in June and this is the focus of Part 2 of my Majors 2013 Previews. Their East Course has hosted more USGA Championships than any other in America so expect the usual layout, plenty rough and ultra-fast greens come to mind. Bobby Jones won the 1930 US Amateur title there, considered a Major at the time, while the most iconic shot probably played there was Ben Hogan’s 1-iron on the last hole of the 1950 US Open. Merion’s pedigree as a US Open venue is not in question and anybody around that Level Par mark will be likely contenders down the stretch on Sunday in the Final Round.

THE US OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP, Merion Golf Club, Thursday 13th – Sunday 16th June

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The last US Open held at Merion was 1981, won by David Graham, so not much course form will come into who may win probably the toughest Major in golf this year. Edoardo Molinari has most recent course form, having won the US Amateur there back in 2005 but his form has well and truly eluded him since his Ryder Cup bow in 2010 when he was superb in the final qualification tournaments. As usual at the US Open, expect contenders to come from those who are solid from tee to green, also great grafters and those with a good short game, most importantly clutch putters. My early picks to contend in the US Open are Northern Irish pair Rory McIlroy & Graeme McDowell, Jason Dufner and Brandt Snedeker. They all pretty much fit the bill and hopefully I will explain why………

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G Mac is very much a US Open type golfer, gets it in play off the tee, without being overly long, and is one of the best putt clutch putters on the planet. His ability shown to hold his head while others were losing theirs (sorry Dustin Johnson!) was very much on display at Pebble Beach in 2010 and his performance last year at Olympic Club showed his battling qualities as he attempted to catch Webb Simpson down the stretch. His came so so close last year to adding to his Major haul and I expect another fine showing in Pennsylvania in June.

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Jason Dufner is one of the finest ball strikers out there and his seemingly relaxed way of going about things is the sort of mentality you need to win a US Open. His only time in real contention for a Major so far did end up with him losing a playoff to Keegan Bradley when it did look like he was cruising to victory so this would provide the doubters with plenty ammunition but it did takes to likes of Phil, Jim Furyk and even Rory a few attempts while contending for a Major before they eventually claimed one of Golf’s big titles. I would not be surprised in the slightest should “The Duff” be in the final pairings when the final round of the US Open tees off at Merion.

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Brandt Snedeker is the latest tour star to claim the crazy bonus on offer for winning the FedEx Cup, and according to the affable Southerner in a recent interview with David Feherty at the Farmers Insurance Open, he has not managed to spend much of that but rather use some of the funds for a charity foundation he is involved in. That is neither here nor there when discussing the potential winner of The US Open Championship but good things usually happen to good people all the same, and Snedeker is definitely in this bracket – his golf isn’t half bad either! One of the final proponents of the old odyssey mallet putter, he is one of the best putters from long and short and his long game is generally spot on albeit a poor showing over the final two rounds at The Open Championship last July does point to maybe a slight weakness when contending at the very top of the game. He has been a superb player for a few years now so well worth looking at for at least a top-5 finish in June.

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World No.1 Rory McIlroy has got the perfect game to win a US Open, he has won the championship already so no need to offer any particular proof here. Whether he can keep up his record of only winning Majors by 8 shots is, of course, probably not up for discussion and I’m sure he’ll take a win no matter by what margin. Once Rors get into contention in a Major now he does seem to have the knack of closing them out, I know he has only won 2 but he has probably only genuinely contended in 4 so a 50% conversion rate from those he has had a chance to win going into the latter stages is pretty damn good. I can look to many contenders for the US Open Championship, and I’m sure due to form and other issues these will change over the next 5 months, but my man for Merion is McIlroy.

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The US Open always throws up something that little bit different due to the difficulty of the layouts presented to the best players in the world, and I expect the second Major of 2013 not to vary here at all. The best of the best at the moment is Rory though and I fully expect him to keep up his record of winning 1 Major a year from 2011.

Another big event in June will be in Ireland as the Mount Juliet Junior Scratch Cup takes place on Sunday 2nd June. Interest is also already high for this amateur event which is also a fixture on the Top Golfer Tour 2013, the winner of the Mount Juliet Junior Scratch Cup will take their place in the Top Golfer Tour Championship later this year. The entry fee is €60 per person, online bookings can be taken via http://www.brsgolf.com/mountjuliet/opens_day.php while you can book by phone on 056-7773012 or email golfreservations@mountjuliet.ie.