Bogeys on the last two holes Sunday doomed Hunter Mahan's US Open title dream, but for some the brutal truth came much sooner as Merion refused to allow the champion a level-par finish.
England's Justin Rose managed an even-par 70 final round to win his first major title on one-over par 281 for 72 holes, but a course many feared would be weakened by rain instead swatted aside contenders time and time again.
American Mahan, playing in the last pair, settled for a share of fourth on 285, his best major finish, but he was in the title hunt for much of the back nine after starting with only one bogey and 13 pars in his first 14 holes.
A double bogey at the 15th after finding a bunker and his stumbles at the close were enough to thwart his bid, but he gave credit to the formidable test provided at the 6,996-yard layout whose mix of long and short holes was stern.
"It was hard," Mahan said. "It was a difficult test. The pins were brutal. They're sitting on three to four degree slopes. So it was tough. I tried hard all day and had some opportunities, but just didn't make a few putts.
"Man, it was brutal out there. It was tough finishing. But swung it pretty well, kept my composure. I played hard until the end and I can't be too disappointed with the results or too down on it. That's missing the whole point."
For England's Luke Donald, the downfall came on the third hole when his tee shot struck one of the workers who was walking the course with another group.
"I hit driver on the third hole and pulled it left and didn't realize there was anyone over there," Donald said. "I hit her in the elbow. And she was in some pain and felt a little bit faint. I felt a little bit faint, too, watching it. You never like that to happen and it was a very tough break for her."
After the mishap, Donald took a bogey at the third to start a run of three bogeys in a row, then a double bogey at six and, after a birdie at seven, made two more bogeys to end any chance at victory after starting the day two adrift.
But he refused to blame hitting the worker for his collapse.
"I felt pretty bad at the time. But it was business as usual in the fourth," he said. "Obviously I played that stretch pretty poorly but I don't really use that as an excuse."
For Steve Stricker, who at 46 could have become the oldest US Open champion and second-oldest winner in major golf history, disaster came early when he began one off the lead and ended with a 76 that left him sharing eighth on 286.
He hit out of bounds off the second tee and shanked another shot on the way to a triple-bogey eight and managed only one birdie all day.
"I had a good week but still it's disapppointing," Stricker said. "Not what I was looking for. Nature of the game I guess. It puts you in your place rather quickly at times."
And Jason Dufner charged into a share of fourth with a 67, causing a stir by starting the back nine with three birdies in four holes only to take a triple bogey 7 at 15.
Were that a par instead, he would have been one shot behind Rose, but it only takes one bad hole for Merion to strike.
"The majority of the time you were playing defense, to be honest with you, depending on the hole location and where you were, which is tough for us because we're used to having 15 feet and going for it," Dufner said.