Philadelphia, PA – In a four-year span, Justin Rose has conquered two of the hardest courses in the Philadelphia area. If Pine Valley, the top-ranked course in the country, were to host a PGA Tour event in the coming years, my money would be on Rose.
The AT&T National was contested at Aronimink Golf Club in 2010 and '11, and in his eight rounds there, Rose broke par in five of them. He won the 2010 playing of that tournament and endeared himself to the locals.
Fast forward to 2013 and Rose returned to the Philadelphia suburbs to take on the East Course at Merion Golf Club. The club was hosting the U.S. Open, which generally is played under firm and fast conditions with thick rough.
The latter was in play, but Merion was far from firm and fast after more than five inches of rain fell on the course in the 10 days leading up and including the first day of the championship.
As television coverage kicked off for the championship, there was a montage about Philly toughness. Bobby Clarke, Allen Iverson, Chuck Bednarik and Chase Utley were among those named.
Not many think golfers are tough, but you probably wouldn't say that to their face, especially if you were talking to Lee Westwood or Tiger Woods.
Rose, all 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds of him, doesn't look very tough, but he becomes tough to beat when you put him on a tough golf course.
The conditions at Aronimink for the AT&T National were tough. When Rose won, the course was in U.S. Open-like shape with firm fairways and hard, fast greens.
He came to Merion not knowing what to expect because of the rain. The greens at Merion were fast, as one would expect, but the fairways and greens were soft from all the rain. The rough, well, it was U.S. Open rough at its best.
Rose never shot worse than 71 over his four rounds at Merion, and fought off a pair of major champions and several of the top players in the world to win his first major championship title.
One of those who Rose fought off was Hunter Mahan, the only player in the field with two rounds in the 60s. Rose also toppled third-round leader Phil Mickelson, who finished second for a record sixth time.
Rose said he had a plan in place to earn his first major championship, and it worked in short order.
"I committed myself to putting a strategy in place that I hoped would work in five to 10 years in delivering major championships. And I tried to strike on that feeling the first week out, first time I tried and tested it to come out with the silver," Rose explained.
The plan worked, but the cynic in me asks why hadn't he done such a thing sooner. Rose, you may recall, shared fourth at the British Open as a precocious 17-year-old.
Rose, now 32, has had top-five finishes at all four majors prior to his victory at Merion. His share of third last year at the PGA Championship had stood as his best finish in a major.
Along with his titles at Aronimink and Merion, Rose has won at other tough venues such at Cog Hill and Muirfield Village.
The tougher the better works for Rose. Winning a golf tournament is a tough task, but it isn't the toughest thing Rose has done in golf.
Rose overcame one of the worst starts in professional golf history: He missed the cut in his first 21 starts.
He has overcome that, and now stands as the first Englishman to win the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970.
That helped make him one tough Rose.
ANOTHER FAILURE FOR MICKELSON
Karma had to be on Mickelson's side as he entered the final round at the U.S. Open.
First, it was his birthday, so you knew he'd receive the majority of the fan support. Second, he won three of his four major championships titles having entered the final round as the 54-hole leader.
Sunday, Mickelson was in that position for a fifth time.
Unfortunately, Mickelson couldn't stay away from the big numbers in the final round. Through the first three rounds, Mickelson's worst score was a bogey.
He had eight birdies, seven bogeys and 39 pars through 54 holes at Merion. Then a funny thing happened on the way to his coronation.
Big numbers got in his way for the first time all week. A tee shot into the sand at third, and a poor bunker shot led to a double bogey. Mickelson's tee ball at No. 5 was playable, but inside a hazard line.
He pitched down the fairway, but walked off with yet another double bogey. The two came in a three-hole span. If he cut them to bogeys, like he had in the third round on those two holes, Mickelson could have forced a playoff with Rose, the eventual champion.
Instead, it was more heartbreak for Mickelson. This may have been his best chance to win the Open, but it certainly wasn't his last chance.
Mickelson will be back in the mix at Pinehurst next year, but will he be able to seal the deal?
If he learned anything from this defeat, it was to stay away from the big number for 72 holes, not 54 like he did at Merion.
* Tiger Woods seems to complain about the speed of the greens every time he loses, especially at majors. The only major in which green speed normally isn't an issue is at the British Open, where the putting surfaces tend to be on the slow side. Maybe he needs that to break his five-year drought in the major.
* If you're looking for a potential winner of the British Open, consider Jason Day. He has three second-place finishes in 11 major championship starts. The British is the only major in which Day doesn't have a top-10 finish, but the way he is playing this year, that could change soon.