ARDMORE, Pa. - Justin Rose broke Phil Mickelson's back in last year's Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club.
He broke Mickelson's heart Sunday in the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
Rose became the first Englishman to win the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970 with a final-round, even-par 70 to thwart Mickelson's quest to win the championship he covets the most. Rose held on at short but feisty Merion Golf Club to finish at 1 over par, two shots better than Jason Day and Mickelson, who now has a record six silver medals in the most taxing tournament of the year.
"This one's probably the toughest for me, because at 43 and coming so close five times, it would have changed the way I look at this tournament altogether and the way I would have looked at my record," Mickelson said. "Except I just keep feeling heartbreak."
Rose survived the par-4, 511-yard final hole with a perfect drive, a long iron just over the fringe and then a chip to an inch with a 3-wood for a tap-in par. He then watched as Mickelson's last-ditch effort to force a playoff, a chip from 30 yards on the 18th, scooted by the hole. Mickelson, who took the lead into the final round for the first time in the U.S. Open, finished with a 74. Day closed with a 71. Jason Dufner (67), Ernie Els (69), Billy Horschel (74) and Hunter Mahan (75) tied for fourth.
World No. 1 Tiger Woods and No. 2 Rory McIlroy have had better weeks. Woods, who counts three U.S. Opens among his 14 majors and a four-time winner this year, couldn't get a handle on the greens and closed with a 74 to finish at 13 over, his worst finishing score in relationship to par in the U.S. Open as a pro. McIlroy, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, couldn't quite get a grip on his entire game, bent the shaft in an iron in a fit of anger after hitting two balls into the creek at 11 and shot 76 to finish at 14 over.
Rose, 32, blew a kiss to the heavens after holing out on the 18th, a nod to his father, Ken, who was so instrumental in his son's life. Rose fought back tears in the victory ceremony as he talked of his late father.
"It wasn't lost on me that today is Father's Day," said Rose, who stunned Mickelson in singles action during Europe's win in the Miracle at Medinah when he first made a big-breaking 50-footer for birdie on the 17th hole and then a 12-footer for birdie on the 18th to win the last two holes in a 1-up victory.
"My dad was the inspiration the whole day. ... I just couldn't help but look up to the heavens and think that my old dad, Ken, had something to do with it.
"I was trying to keep it together, obviously, because I didn't want to be premature. Phil had two holes to play. But that was my time, the clouds had parted, it was kind of ironic. It was just a beautiful evening. And the way it worked out, I felt like I needed to do that."
Mickelson wasn't close to tears after his close call, the latest chapter in his thrilling, often tortuous ride spanning more than two decades through the U.S. Open. Mickelson, who has led the U.S. Open four times on the back nine on Sunday, lost by a shot when Payne Stewart holed a 15-footer for par on the final hole in 1999, was runner-up to Woods in 2002, to Retief Goosen in 2004, to Geoff Ogilvy in 2006 and Lucas Glover in 2009. The loss in 2006 was the most excruciating, for it was at Winged Foot that Mickelson made double bogey on the final hole after hitting a corporate tent with his drive and a tree with his second, to which he said "I am such an idiot."
Mickelson was serenaded with Happy Birthday from the first tee through the 18th hole and seemed destined for victory after holing a shot from 75 yards out of heavy rough on No. 10 for eagle as he retook the lead.
But a stomach-churning bogey at the 121-yard 13th hole, where he missed the green and chopped his second out of heavy rough to 20 feet but failed to make the putt for par, stalled his momentum. On the par-4 15th he selected to chip from on the green and went long, then missed a 15-footer for par. On 16 he missed from 10 feet for birdie, and on the par-3 17th he missed from 40 feet.
Mickelson said he'll look back on his tee shot on 13 and his approach on 15, when he said he quit on his swing and wound up well short, as the moments "where I let (the tournament) go."
It had been a magical week to that point for Mickelson, who began with a flight back to San Diego to escape the nasty weather on Monday and Tuesday and to attend the eighth-grade graduation of the oldest of his three children on Wednesday. An overnight flight landed three hours before his tee time on Thursday, a 6,000-mile round-trip, if you will, and he still took the lead with a 67. He held a share of the lead after 36 holes with Horschel and took a one-shot lead into the final round.
He even fell in love with Maid Merion, where history awaits at every dogleg, where Bobby Jones completed his Grand Slam in 1930, where Ben Hogan struck the iconic 1-iron in 1950, where Lee Trevino tossed a rubber snake at Jack Nicklaus and then took down the Golden Bear in a playoff in 1971.
Despite skepticism that Merion could stand up to the test, the old course delivered, and then some. Biting back with nasty high rough, thin fairways and hole locations that left players wincing, Merion handled the game's best despite playing a smidge below 7,000 yards all week.
"This could have been the big, a really big turnaround for me on how I look at the U.S. Open and the tournament that I'd like to win, after having so many opportunities," Mickelson said. "I was playing very well here and really loving the golf course. This week was my best opportunity, I felt, heading in, certainly in the final round, the way I was playing and the position I was in."
It has been a rocky, often tortuous ride as well for Rose, who as an amateur stunned the golf world with a hole out of his own on the final hole of the 1998 British Open to finish fourth at 17. He immediately turned pro - and promptly missed the cut in his first 21 tournaments. After returning to qualifying school twice, he finally broke through and gradually worked his way into one of the game's best, ranked No. 5 heading into this week and a winner of 14 professional titles.
En route to winning his first major championship, Rose made five birdies on the final day as he heard the roars from two groups behind where fan favorite Mickelson was playing. Rose never gave in - not in the final round, not when he missed 21 cuts in a row, not when people doubted that he would never have the game to win a major. His chances in majors were limited, but Masters champion Adam Scott set an example for Rose to follow.
"And he sent me a fantastic text after the Masters," Rose said.
It read: "Your time is coming soon."
Meanwhile, Mickelson is still waiting.
Steve DiMeglio, USA TODAY Sports