Cleat Geeks

The 19th Hole: Johnson wins U.S. Open

From weather delays to adjusted schedules to marathon days to an unclear and perhaps unfair ruling, not to mention one of the toughest golf courses in the world, Dustin Johnson had a lot to face during the 116th playing of the U.S. Open.

And perhaps none of it was more daunting than his record of near-misses in major championships, and questions about whether he could close the deal in one of golf’s four flagship events.

Photo By: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Photo By: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Consider that test passed with flying colors, as Johnson overcame all the challenges to claim the U.S. Open Sunday at historic Oakmont Country Club, finishing three strokes ahead of Jim Furyk, Scott Piercy and Shane Lowry.

“I’ve been in this situation time and time again,” Johnson said. “So I know what to expect. I know how to handle myself. For me to finally get it done on Sunday in a major, it’s a huge monkey off my back.”

And the stress of a final round at a U.S. Open is tough enough, but Johnson had more added to it after an incident on the 5th green. Prior to playing his par putt, Johnson’s ball moved slightly. It was determined by his playing partner and the rules official walking with the group Johnson had not addressed the putt yet or been the cause of the moving ball, meaning he would not be penalized a strong.

That is, that was the decision for a couple of hours. Then the United States Golf Association, which has the final say on rulings at the event, had taken some more looks and now determined that he “might” in fact be penalized, with Johnson being informed of that possibility on the 12th hole and at the time leading by two shots. Or, maybe he wasn’t, as the possible penalty would put him one stroke up.

“I don’t even know what I was thinking,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t even worried about it at that point.”DustinJohnsonCenter

What followed was some of the most mentally tough golf of Johnson’s career. He bogeyed the 14th but parred the next three holes, including clutch putts at the 16th and the short par-4 17th.

Then, needing just a bogey at the tough 18th hole, he finished with only the 2nd birdie out of the 67-man field on the final hole, clinching the victory.

It snaps a run of hard-luck and sometimes self-destructive major finishes for Johnson, the most recent at last year’s U.S. Open, when he three-putted the final green from 12 feet to go from possibly winning to missing a playoff.

Always noted as one of the most talented players on tour and one of the very best pure athletes, DJ has shed that spot in the rankings of “the best never to win a major” and could be poised to do this several more times.

Furyk, winner of this event 13 years ago and one of the runners-up last time it was played at Oakmont in 2007, made a big Sunday run, closing with a 66 that could have been better had he not made bogey at that same 18th hole.

Piercy had his best major championship showing and closed with a 69 that turned out to not quite be enough either.

And the final pairing of Lowry and Andrew Landry found the big stage to be tough. Lowry, an Irishman who came to the final round with a four-shot lead, wilted on the second nine and settled for the three-way tie for second.

AndrewLandryLandry, a PGA Tour rookie who was the 18-hole leader, birdied the final two holes while completing his third round Sunday morning but came crashing back to Earth with a closing 78 and tied for 15th.

Sergio Garcia had a solid week in pursuit of his first major but wound up in a tie for 5th with Brandon Grace at even par. It’s the second straight U.S. Open top five for Grace.

The tournament was filled with stops and starts due to two weather delays and eventually an early end Thursday. Only nine players finished and half never teed off at all, leaving the USGA and course officials fighting all week to get things back on schedule.

It led to some strange circumstances in workload for players. For example, on Friday, Landry hit just one shot to complete his first round – a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole – before getting the rest of the day off.

Meanwhile, players like Johnson, Garcia and about 50 others had to play their entire first and second rounds, a 36-hole marathon.

It was a mostly off week for the top three players in the world rankings. Jason Day charged with a 66 in round three but could only muster a 71 to close, finishing in a tie for 8th.

It was worse for defending champion Jordan Spieth, who finished at 9-over, in a tie for 37th.

And it was worse still for Rory McIlroy, who wound up missing the cut, his first missed cut in a major since the 2013 British Open. And, he actually slipped from No. 3 to No. 4 in the world rankings, replaced by golf’s newest member of the major champion club, Dustin Johnson.

Picks

Jason Day – As mentioned above, the Aussie couldn’t bounce back from a poor first round. 2-over, tied for 8th.

Jason Dufner – It never seemed like the Duf was really in the hunt, but as the field started to struggle on the weekend, he stayed steady for a backdoor top-10 finish. 2-over, tied for 8th.

Matt Kuchar – A rough final round Sunday did in any hopes he had of a solid finish. 10-over, tied for 46th.

Matthew Fitzpatrick – Same as Kuchar, but it was the third round instead of the fourth that wiped out the young Englishman. 13-over, tied for 54th.

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