Simpson grabs US Open as others fail
Here’s what should’ve happened on an eerie Sunday, shrouded in San Francisco fog, at the United States Open.
Pennsylvania-tough Jim Furyk should’ve won a deserved second Open, and cemented his place among the best players of his era.
Or the gregarious, popular Graeme McDowell, who’s every bit as pugnacious as Furyk, should’ve done what he did down the Pacific Coast Highway at Pebble Beach and been sipping Guinness from the US Open trophy for the second time in three years.
Or Ireland’s Padraig Harrington should’ve birdied the final hole to at least force a playoff and give himself a shot at a fourth major; a feat only Phil Mickelson’s accomplished in the Tiger Woods era.
Or Ernie Els, who shot into contention with a brilliant eagle at the par-4 seventh on Sunday, should’ve held his nerve and won a fourth major, and embraced his autistic son on the green on Father’s Day, and told him that his daddy might have not made it to the Masters but is far from finished as a golfer.
Or Lee Westwood should’ve won the major that’s eluded him; the one gaping hole in what is otherwise a Hall of Fame resume.
But none of that happened.
Of course it didn’t.
Because this is The Olympic Club, and the only guarantee when they bring an Open here is that there will be a surprise winner.
Jack Fleck beat Ben Hogan, Billy Casper clipped Arnold Palmer, Scott Simpson overcame Tom Watson, Lee Janzen denied Payne Stewart and on Sunday, another Simpson, Webb, came from six shots back with 13 holes to play.
Eyes will roll at the nice but charisma-challenged Simpson, a young man of devout faith playing in just his second US Open.
To some, it’ll seem like he stole one from the "right" winner, just like the previous four champions here before him have done. But that only makes for a good story.
The truth is that the big names threw this 112th United States Open away. And Simpson grabbed it.
Furyk, who’d had the lead or a share of it since Friday, had the championship in the bag until he pull-hooked a three wood into the trees on the par-5 16th, leading to a bogey that will haunt him for a very long time.
"The rest of the field had that same (tee) shot to hit today and I’m pretty sure no one hit as s**tty a shot as I did,” he said. "I have no one to blame but myself.
"On that back nine, it was my tournament to win."
McDowell missed a 25-footer down the hill on the last hole for birdie that would have forced an 18-hole Monday playoff, but the reality is that he shot 73, one better than Furyk.
The damage was done earlier in the day, when the Irishman shot 4 over on the first nine.
"There’s a mixture of emotions inside me right now," he said.
"Obviously disappointment, deflation, pride. But mostly just frustration, just because I hit three fairways today. It’s the US Open. You’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to hit it in some fairways."
Like Furyk, Els’ chances came undone on the 16th, where he made bogey, then like Furyk failed to birdie the easiest hole on the course — the 17th — and made another bogey on the last.
"I didn’t hit the shots coming in, basically," Els admitted.
Harrington also made bogey on the last with a wedge in his hand, plugging in the bunker.
Westwood’s tilt came undone — spiritually, if not numerically — when a wayward drive on the fifth hole hit a tree and never came down.
In the meantime, Simpson played his final 13 holes in 4-under par, a tremendous feat on an exacting golf course. Even more impressive is that he did so feeling as nervous as he’s ever felt, and only part of the explanation for that comes from the fact that his wife mistakenly had given him caffeinated coffee on Sunday morning.
"A lot of times I had to hit my legs, because I couldn’t really feel them," he said.
"One of my thoughts on the back nine was I don’t know how Tiger has won 14 of these things."
Simpson admitted that he told himself not to try to win, but just play.
"This is only my second US Open and so I told myself don’t get too excited, don’t try to win," he said. "You’ve got to go out there and try to make pars, and that’s what I did. And luckily I made some putts, and got a couple under out of it. I never really wrapped my mind around winning.
"If I was honest with you I believed in myself I could win a major, but maybe not so soon."
McDowell, though, was buying none of it.
Even through his disappointment, the always classy McDowell acknowledged what the 26-year-old from Charlotte, N.C. had accomplished.
"Webb’s a great champion and what a great weekend’s work for him — 68, 68. Take nothing away from him."
The better storylines may have been with others, but be sure that Webb Simpson was the right winner.