Sometimes professional sport hands its greatest prizes to those who fully deserve them – and in the most emotional of circumstances.
Justin Rose's life and career suffered a cruel blow in 2002 when his father, Ken, died from leukaemia at 57. On Father's Day at Merion's East Course Rose supplied the best present his late mentor, and occasional caddie, could ever have wished for by winning the US Open.
Rose ended a 43-year English wait to win this title. No Englishman had claimed any major at all from 1996 until the moment of confirmation that Rose had held off the challenge of Phil Mickelson and Jason Day arrived. As Rose tapped in for par on the 18th hole he kissed his ball and immediately looked skyward, unquestionably with his late father in mind.
Rose's total was over par by a stroke yet he triumphed by two from Mickelson and Day. Mickelson continued the trend of a 54-hole US Open leader at Merion never going on to win the championship, now in five times of trying. For a sixth time Mickelson finished second in the second major of the year.
No description of fourth-round events here would be even remotely complete without a string of US Open tales of woe. When Steve Stricker shanked his second shot from the middle of the 2nd fairway, it was simply in keeping with golf which lacked only the Benny Hill theme tune as an accompaniment. This should not be taken as a direct criticism of the principal protagonists; rather it once again illustrated the fierce set-up of a US Open course. The tournament prompts fear which, in turn, can make the best golfers in the world do odd things.
The seeds of Luke Donald's impending demise were sown in the final throes of Saturday's play. Then the Englishman got himself into an almighty pickle on the 18th and contrived a double bogey. The expression on his face, a sad concoction of bewilderment, anger and dejection, highlighted what a tough task he would have in rousing himself for the final round. Donald could not call on a previous major win for inspiration or even the experience of competing at the summit of a US Open leaderboard.
Perhaps Donald's fall was, therefore, predictable. Having already dropped a shot at the 3rd, he found the bank of a water hazard a hole later and had to play with one foot in the creek. The 35-year-old could barely advance the ball from there, found a bunker and proceeded to collapse. Donald reached the turn in 42 shots, the same tally as Charl Schwartzel, which may have left the pair on the leaderboard but ended their chances of glory even in this most brutal of settings.
Mickelson three-putted the 3rd for a double-bogey, thereby maintaining his theme this weekend of starting rounds poorly. Rose provided the opposite, courtesy of a huge birdie putt on the 6th – which conjured memories of his heroics at Medinah – and the collection of another shot on the 7th.
Day, looking to become the second Australian in succession to win a major after Adam Scott's Masters success, appeared to have good fortune on his side.
Having found water on the 11th, he came perilously close to sending a second ball into the same place. Instead it stuck luckily on the bank, from where Day holed a chip.
Mickelson subsequently provided a moment which was even more magical. From rough 76 yards out at the 10th, he found the cup for an eagle. Mickelson leapt and danced, as did the crowd, in demonstrating only for the latest time what victory would mean to him.
There was more delight for Mickelson on the 14th, where he holed from 20ft for par after twice finding rough. On the 15th the American opted to chip from the front of the green but caught the shot thin, leaving another 20ft par save which this time he could not convert. Up ahead, Rose played a wonderful if unlucky tee shot to the 17th which ended pin high, just right of the green.
Hunter Mahan had been the steadiest of all those looking to succeed Webb Simpson as the champion before finding thick rough from the tee on the 15th. Such are the margins of error at Merion that a bogey was always likely from there; Mahan three-putted for a double, which immediately looked a significant aberration.
Mickelson sought to claw back lost ground with his approach to the 16th, which left a birdie opportunity. It was spurned, moments after Rose played a superb second shot to his 72nd hole which slipped only narrowly past it. By now the making of history was within the Englishman's grasp. He grasped it firmly.
Every major championship should end on the accentuating of the positive. A glowing endorsement towards Merion, hosting its first US Open since 1981, arrived via Ernie Els, who made a terrific Sunday run in Pennsylvania by signing for a 69 and tying fifth.
"It has been an unbelievable venue this week," Els said. "Everything about it was just wonderful. And the fans were unbelievable. It definitely shouldn't wait another 32 years." The more pertinent wait, that for Rose and England, is also over. How the 32-year-old is entitled to cherish that.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © chispita_666