When the fourth round of the 112th US Open started today everyone thought that the winner would come from one of Jim Furyk, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood, with some other big names ready to make a charge. 14-time major champion Tiger Woods was six over after his first six holes to immediately drop out of the running while McDowell, Westwood and Furyk all started steadily.
Despite being six shots back after five holes played, last year’s PGA Tour money list runner-up Webb Simpson hit three consecutive birdies to move firmly into contention. Other contenders started to slip away from the lead including English world number three Westwood who lost a ball in a tree after an errant tee shot. Other players came into it, but dropped out of it. Young American Michael Thompson posted an excellent 67 to hold the clubhouse lead at two over par and missed a good chance at 17 to get to plus one.
42-year-old South African Ernie Els moved to +1 thanks to an eagle at seven before slipping back to plus two one hole later. Jim Furyk got himself out of trouble at the 12th hole with a monster 30ft par putt while McDowell drained a similar length putt for birdie to move just one shot off the lead. Els dropped out of the running with bogeys at 16 and 18 to finish on +4 when he could have gone so much lower.
The pendulum swung towards Simpson when Furyk hit an ugly quick hook into the trees off the 16th tee. Simpson then proceeded to finish with a brilliant up and down from the thick rough to the right of the 18th green to finish with a two under par 68 and +1 overall. 42-year-old Furyk could not reach the green in regulation at the 70th hole and had to settle for a bogey, leaving him needing at least one birdie from the last two holes while McDowell needed either two birdies or an eagle at 17.
Sitting in the clubhouse the leader was clearly pleased just to have finished: “I’ve probably prayed more in those last few holes than I have ever done in my life but I’m pleased to get in with a 68.”
Furyk’s second shot at the 17th, also a par five, came up well short in a bunker as he decided to take a four iron when a metal club may have been the better option. All this time Webb Simpson had to sit in the clubhouse with his family and wait to see if his effort was going to be enough. Furyk’s birdie putt came up short but McDowell drained his attempt. This meant that the Portrush man and the unconventional American both walked down the last in need of a birdie in order to force a play-off. Both players found the first cut of rough as Simpson was left to chew on his nails for a little longer.
McDowell hit an excellent second shot into the 72nd hole to leave himself around 15ft downhill to take part in a play-off. However Furyk’s ball buried into a green-side bunker to end his title hopes. McDowell missed his putt narrowly below the hole to give 26-year-old American Webb Simpson his first major title.
When asked if he was nervous waiting for McDowell and Furyk to finish Simpson replied: “It was nerve-racking. Graeme and Jim have both won majors before and when Graeme had that 25 footer at the last I expected it to hit the hole or at least go very close.”
An excellent win for Simpson caps un unbelievable rise from 200 in the world rankings at the end of the 2010 season which has included two other PGA Tour wins. Another rousing golf tournament has ended with a ninth consecutive new major winner and the third American victor in a row. Now all the players will go away and begin their preparations for the 141st British Open that takes place in less than a month’s time.