ARDMORE, Pa. (AP) - Jason Dufner was on a roll during the final round of the U.S. Open.
By the time Dufner stormed into No. 15, he had whipped Merion into his own putt-putt course.
Not a single bogey. Five birdies. And suddenly, Dufner was thrust into contention to win a shiny trophy and a wicker basket with Phil Mickelson, Jason Day and winner Justin Rose.
Dufner, runner-up in the 2011 PGA Championship, had his pursuit unravel on 15.
He hooked his drive out of bounds and finished with a triple bogey. Goodbye, Open trophy.
``One bad swing on 15 today is probably going to end me up a few short,'' he said Sunday after closing with a 3-under 67.
Dufner finished 5 over, four shots back of Rose. The American had tossed his wedge into a creek in frustration on Friday.
``I felt pretty good all week, just had a rough year where I can't get anything going,'' he said.
STRICKER SHOCK: Steve Stricker couldn't close the deal.
Running out of time to win a major, the 46-year-old's steady game abandoned him on Sunday in the final round of the U.S. Open.
Stricker was only one stroke off the lead entering the day but a triple bogey on the second hole quickly ended an upset bid. He closed with a 76 and finished tied for eighth.
Stricker said he felt ready to make a run at the top of the leaderboard until No. 2.
``I didn't feel that nervous,'' he said. ``I felt good. I felt relaxed. I was excited for the day. Just the nature of the game, I guess.''
He said his play this week has justified his decision to cut back on his PGA Tour schedule to spend more time with family, as well as more time practicing for the bigger events. Still, he ruled himself out of the British Open.
Stricker has been in contention five times on Sunday in majors, but he's usually faltered over those final 18 holes. His best U.S. Open finish is a solo fifth place at Pinehurst in 1999.
``I felt more comfortable than I have in previous times I've been in contention in majors. So that's a good sign,'' he said. ``I'm running out of years, though, I think. It's not getting any easier as I get older. But the feelings that I have out there are that of calmness, I guess, and trusting my ability.''
ROCKY ENDING: Rory McIlroy started the U.S. Open with a run up the Rocky steps.
He ended it going a few rounds with one of his clubs.
McIlroy was miserable at Merion and he took out his frustrations on his club on No. 11 on Sunday. His first tee shot plopped in the water. He took a drop, then sent another ball into the same creek.
McIlroy then jammed the Nike club into the ground and completely twisted the head.
``I think that's what this tournament does to you,'' he said. ``At one point or another, it's got the better of you, and it definitely did this weekend.''
He briefly lost his cool, just not his sense of humor.
When he was introduced at his news conference as shooting 14 over, he joked, ``You didn't have to tell them that part.''
He shot a 6-over 76 in the final round.
McIlroy was part of the feature group the opening two rounds, playing alongside Tiger Woods and Adam Scott - Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the world ranking. All three were big duds at Merion Golf Club. Woods finished 13 over, and Scott at 15 over.
``I thought of the three of us, the first two rounds, Adam played the best, and he was the one with the worst score,'' McIlroy said. ``But that is just what a U.S. Open does to you.''
Again, McIlroy never came close to winning. He finished 25th at the Masters this year and was coming off a 78 at the Memorial. He barely made the cut and finished 57th. Most notably, he quit in the middle of a round at the Honda Classic.
The 24-year-old from Northern Ireland believed, though, his game is rounding into form.
``I don't feel like my game is that far away,'' he said. ``That's what I've been taking out of this week. It's a matter of trying to let it all click into place.''
With his wedge as bent out of shape as his game, McIlroy finished with 13 clubs. It might not have mattered if he had 19.
The former world No. 1 again refused to blame his equipment switch for his season-long struggles.
``I sort of needed to play a little bit more,'' he said. ``If I was to do it all over again, I would have done things slightly differently. But you learn from that and it's hopefully something I'll never have to do in my career again. So I don't mind taking three months to figure it out and go from there.''
VOLUNTEER STRUCK: Luke Donald's errant tee shot on the third hole struck a volunteer in the elbow. Sara Clark, a standard bearer, was hit in the left elbow and knocked to the ground near the bunker. She needed an ice pack at the medical tent before she was released. Clark did not return to the course. The USGA said most standard bearers range from 14 to 21 years old.
Donald appeared visibly shook. He made bogey, and then followed that with two bogeys and a double bogey. He shot 42 on the back nine.
``She was in some pain and felt a little bit faint, and I felt a little bit faint, too, watching it,'' Donald said. ``Unfortunately, you never like that to happen, and it was a very tough break for her.''
MATSUYAMA QUALIFIES: Hideki Matsuyama of Japan finished at 7-over 267 and tied for the best round of the tournament with a closing 67. He tied for 10th in his first U.S Open, making him an automatic qualifier for next year. He qualified this year in the Japan sectional.
``It was a great experience for me to be able to play a course that was so difficult and the setting was very difficult, too,'' he said. ``But to play well the final day has given me a lot of confidence and I'm looking forward to more experiences like this.''
Matsuyama was a two-time winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur and twice made the cut at the Masters as a teenager. He was No. 1 in the world amateur ranking when he turned pro in April. He already has two wins on the Japan Golf Tour, one as an amateur.
DIVOTS: Ernie Els cursed at a reporter to end his news conference. ``I'm out of here,'' he said. ... Amateur Michael Kim faded hard Sunday with a 6-over 76 and was knocked off the final leaderboard. The 19-year-old Kim and his Merion caddie were fan favorites as they worked their way into contention. ``I could have stared at that leaderboard for hours on end and wouldn't have stopped. It was pretty cool,'' he said. ... The 18th hole failed to have a birdie in the third and fourth rounds. ``I really do believe it's the hardest hole we play in any U.S. Open,'' USGA executive director Mike Davis said.