Dustin Johnson overcomes Oakmont and the USGA to win first major
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
DUSTIN JOHNSON overcame his past failures, his nerves and the ineptitude of rules officials at the USGA to win the US Open at Oakmont.
The 31-year-old American had every single spectator willing him on and he delivered, finally winning his maiden major after so many near-misses. But, as ever with Johnson, nothing was straightforward, and he played the final seven holes with the threat of a penalty shot hanging over his head. In a nutshell, his ball moved on the fifth green but he hadn't grounded his putter and the rules official told him there would be no penalty. Seven holes later he was told the decision was being reviewed.
It didn't matter in the end as he overturned a five-shot deficit on 54-hole leader Shane Lowry and crowned his day by striking his approach shot at the 72nd hole to three feet and then holing the putt for a 69 and a three-shot victory. It should have been a 68 but, in the end, he was penalised. Heaven knows how this would have panned out had he finished in a tie and then lost as a result of the penalty. It was a shambles. Thankfully, justice was done.
Lowry had to return to the course early in the morning to complete his third round. He was five under par and one in front - by the time he had completed those final four holes he was seven under and four ahead.
US Open Final Round Highlights
So off they all went. Could Sergio Garcia or Lee Westwood put all the near-misses behind them and land their first major? Could Johnson, four behind at the start, finally finish the job? Would Andrew Landry, who had played so well for three days, keep his composure?
Westwood had a nightmare of a day, dropping seven shots in the first seven holes to end his challenge. And, sadly, Landry was faring little better.
It would have been easy believe that a four-shot lead would be enough for Lowry, but on a course as treacherous as this, no lead is ever enough. Inevitably, dropped shots at the second and fifth saw Lowry's lead reduced to one.
And the man in second place was Johnson, who found an early birdie. There were three men on two under par - Garcia, Scott Piercy and, incredibly, Jim Furyk. The 46-year-old missed nine months because of a wrist injury but here he was mixing it with the best in the business again. He began the day 10 shots behind Lowry but birdied the first, fifth, seventh, 11th and 17th to go five under for the day. If he could find a birdie at the 18th he might set a target that nobody could match.
But he missed the 18th fairway, put his second shot in a bunker and dropped his only shot of the day for a finishing total of 279. At that moment, Johnson was picking up his second birdie of the day to reach the turn in 33 and join Lowry in the lead on five under. Branden Grace was the only other golfer under par.
When Lowry dropped his third shot of the day at the ninth, Johnson found himself in the lead all by himself. And now all the leading contenders were on the back nine. Only Tiger Woods, Payne Stewart, Jack Nicklaus and Bobby Jones have ever finished second one year and come back the following year to win - Johnson, of course, suffered a heartbreaking second-place finish at Chambers Bay in 2015 and he was increasingly looking likely to join those four legends of the game.
The wheels were threatening to come off for Lowry. He found the middle of the fairway at the 10th but left his approach a long way from the hole and three-putted. He was now back to three under, and two adrift of Johnson.
Jason Day, the world No 1, holed a chip for an eagle three at the 12th and suddenly, at level par, the Australian was back in the picture. And he immediately followed it with a birdie at the 13th. One under.
The next player to make a move in the right direction was Piercy, a birdie at the 12th taking him to three under. Moments later, Grace birdied the same hole to go two under. Garcia, who had birdied the eighth after holing a bunker shot, went three under at the 13th. If ever a golfer is owed a major, Garcia is that man.
Lowery left no doubt as to his dissapiontment in his final round interview
But suddenly it emerged that some drama was unfolding. At the fifth hole, Johnson's ball moved a fraction on the putting surface - he told Weswtood, his playing partner, but both men agreed that the American had not grounded his putter, as did a rules official, so no penalty was imposed. However, as he came off the 11th green he was informed by rules officials that he would be required to review video footage at the end of his round. It meant that the threat of a penalty was hanging over his head - and not for the first time.
In 2010 at Whistling Straits he grounded his club in a bunker on the final hole and it cost him the tournament. Now he had to play the final few holes not knowing whether or not the same fate was to befall him once more. Was he five under par and two ahead or was he effectively now just one in front? He had to eliminate the thought from his mind and get on with the job in hand. There are times when this sport shoots itself in the foot, and we were all witnessing one of those occasions. How could the USGA expect Johnson to complete his round without dwelling on what might happen?
Lowry finally picked up his first birdie at the 12th to move back to four under par. It was exactly what he needed. A magnificent up and down for par at the next indicated the Irishman was back on track. And he was tied for the lead moments later when Johnson three-putted the 14th.
Day's challenge ended at the par-four 17th with a double bogey, while Garcia dropped a shot at the 15th to fall back to one under. And, just as Johnson had done, Lowry three-putted the 14th to fall back to three under. Piercy was next to drop a shot, falling back to two under when he three-putted from long range at the 16th.
So, Johnson was four under (or was he?), Lowry was three under, Piercy two under, Furyk one under, Garcia level par. Lowry's day went from bad to worse when he three-putted again, this time at the 15th. He was now tied with Piercy on two under, two behind Johnson. The American maintained his lead with a brave 10-foot putt for par on the 16th. Moments later, Lowry faced the same putt for par and he missed again. He was now six over for the round and just one under for the tournament
Piercy needed no worse than a par at the last but found a bunker on the left and was able to advance the ball no more than 100 yards. It cost him a bogey, and Johnson was three in front, and the whole question of the penalty now seemed to be irrelevant.
After hitting his approach at the final hole to no more than three feet, Johnson was able to march down the fairway to the sound of 40,000 people chanting "DJ! DJ DJ!" If ever a man deserved to win a major it is Dustin Johnson. In the past, he has found every way in the book to lose but this time he discovered a way to get it done. He birdied the last for a final round of 69 and a winning total of 276. The first man to greet him as he walked off the green was Jack Nicklaus.
A bitterly disappointed Lowry finished with a miserable 76 but shared second place with Furyk and Piercy. He will have learnt a great deal from this week and will be back.
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