ARDMORE, Pa. When he was a 17-year-old amateur, Justin Rose grabbed the hearts of the British galleries by holing out a dramatic shot from the rough for a birdie to finish tied for fourth in the 1998 Open at Royal Birkdale.
He turned pro the next day. Then he went through a period where he literally couldn't make a cut. That's golf.
So it has been a long, bumpy climb. But Sunday on the East Course at Merion Golf Club, all that promise and potential finally brought him to the top of his world. And as many before him have happily discovered, it will never be the same.
You can scratch his name from that list of best players never to have won a major. He's a U.S. Open champion forever. And by hoisting the trophy here, he now becomes part of a much different fraternity, one that includes Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Lee Trevino. Pretty historic company.
Speaking of which, Rose also becomes the first Englishman to win this major since Tony Jacklin at Hazeltine in 1970.
It's some story, even if it wasn't the one most folks probably hoped for. Phil Mickelson, who took a one-shot lead into the final round, was the sentimental rooting interest.
How could he not be? Lefty was celebrating his 43rd birthday, on Father's Day. He flew home to Southern California for his daughter's eighth-grade graduation on Monday, which meant he didn't land back at Philadelphia International Airport until 3 1/2 hours before his early-morning, first-round tee time.
This, from the same man who insisted he would have left the 1999 U.S. Open, which he lost when Payne Stewart made that timeless 18-foot par putt on the final hole, if his wife, Amy, had gone into labor with their first child.
So it was a Disney movie waiting to happen. Instead, Phil had to settle for his sixth runner-up finish, extending his championship record in his 23rd Open start. Who knows if he will ever get this close again? But Rose will be a popular winner, too, just because.
Playing in the third-to-last group with countryman Luke Donald, who was also going after his first major but closed with a 75, Rose began the day at 1 over par, two back. He went in front for keeps when the two he was tied with, Mickelson and Hunter Mahan, took a bogey and double bogey at the par-4 15th.
Rose, who got it done despite playing the rugged closing five-hole stretch in 2 over, was up by one heading to 18, a 500-plus-yard par 4 that was playing harder than any other.
He put the drive of his life right down the middle of the fairway, not far from the plaque that commemorates the iconic 1-iron that Hogan hit in the fourth round in 1950 en route to a three-way playoff that he took the next day.
"I did think about that," Rose admitted. "And I thought to myself, 'This is my moment.' "
He then hit a 4-iron that landed 10 feet in front of the wicker basket but caught the downslope and rolled just off the back of the green. No problem. Chipping with a 3-wood, he nearly rolled the next shot in for a birdie.
But par was good enough. All that was left was to wait in the clubhouse with his wife, Kate, and watch for Mickelson's third shot, from just in front of the green, to miss.
Rose carded a par 70, with five birdies and as many bogeys, for a 281, two better than Mickelson (74) and Jason Day (71), who nearly won the Masters in April and now has four top-threes in his last 10 majors.
"For me, it's very heartbreaking," said Mickelson, who overcame double bogeys at the par-3 third and par-4 fifth, not to mention a bogey at the easy par-3 13th.
After tapping in the clinching gimme, Rose looked up at the heavens. That was for his father, who passed away in 2002 following a prolonged battle with cancer. Ken was always his biggest fan/mentor.
"Father's Day was not lost on me today," said Rose, who had tears in his eyes as he walked off the 18th green. "You don't have opportunities to really dedicate a win to someone you love. And today was about him. I got a beautiful text that said, 'Go out and be the man your dad taught you to be and be the man that your kids can look up to.' That's how I tried to carry myself out there. My dad was my inspiration the whole day."