Two U.S. Open titles in a row for Northern Ireland

June 19, 2011
Trends
Two in a row for Northern Ireland

Graeme McDowell’s one-year reign as U.S. Open champion ended on Sunday, one year after he claimed his first major championship at Pebble Beach. The Northern Irishman shot even-par 284 in that tournament and was the only player not to finish above par at one of the classic U.S. Open venues.

His play at this year’s event was even better, at least based on his scoring total, but he finished well behind winner Rory McIlroy. So following his final-round 69 at Congressional on Sunday, McDowell spoke glowingly about his fellow countryman keeping America’s national golf championship in Northern Ireland — which has a population of just 1.8 million — for at least one more year.

“The probability of Northern Ireland producing back-to-back U.S. Open champions is a lottery number,” said McDowell, who finished at 2-under 282 at a course he earlier this week called not a true U.S. Open test. “It’s bigger than that, you know? It’s incredible.”

It’s the first time in the modern era that a country other than the United States has produced consecutive U.S. Open winners. The last time that happened was in 1907 and ’08, when Scotsmen Alec Ross and Fred McLeod won the event.

— Gene Wang

Personal Best
Schwartzel has best U.S. Open finish

Charl Schwartzel was the beneficiary of Rory McIlroy’s collapse at the Masters in April, winning golf’s first major of the season after this year’s U.S. Open champion failed to hold a four-shot lead entering the final round.

For much of this weekend, Schwartzel was simply a spectator at McIlroy’s coronation at Congressional. The South African did post a final-round 5-under 66, tied for the lowest on Sunday, but his total of 4-under 280 was good enough only for a tie for ninth.

“I played pretty spectacular today, actually,” Schwartzel said. “I nearly holed two iron shots. The whole thing is, everyone can always say I could have played better, but I had a really good, low score.”

Schwartzel also had his best finish at a U.S. Open. He’s played in four total, and his previous best was a tie for 16th last year at Pebble Beach. He also fired two rounds in the 60s at Congressional, eclipsing his previous best round of 70 at Bethpage two years ago.

“I was saying to my caddie that a couple years ago, five, six years ago when I came out here, you would walk down the fairway, and people would recognize you. They’d say, ‘We’ve seen you somewhere,’ but they don’t actually know who you are,” Schwartzel said. “Sometimes you’d hear, ‘Who’s that guy?’ and now I really had a lot of support, and that’s nice.”

— Gene Wang

Low Amateur
Cantlay tops some big names

Patrick Cantlay is 19, and at that age, qualifying for his first U.S. Open would have been accomplishment enough. But Cantlay didn’t stop there, instead finishing as the low amateur at Congressional.

Outlasting multiple major winners such as Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera to play into the weekend allowed him to soak in all the pageantry of the final Sunday at the most prestigious event in American golf. His final-round 1-over 72 was two better than Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, and his cumulative score of even-par 284 was three ahead of two-time U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen and makes him the first amateur to finish even par or better at the U.S. Open since Jack Nicklaus finished 2 under in 1960.

“It means so much because there’s so much history,” said Cantlay, who recently completed his freshman year at UCLA. “Obviously it’s my first U.S. Open, so it means a lot to me that I was able to compete well in my first one. You know, it’s just exciting and makes me feel good.”

Cantlay’s strong showing at the U.S. Open capped a hectic few weeks in which he participated in the NCAA finals in Oklahoma, a sectional qualifier in Ohio and the Palmer Cup matches against the United Kingdom in Connecticut.

It’s a schedule comparable to that of a PGA Tour professional, but Cantlay has said he intends to complete his studies in college before giving up his amateur status.

“Golf is pretty cool,” Cantlay said. “It takes you to some cool spots. I’m just going to keep having fun and play as good as I can. Words can’t describe how much fun this week has been.”

— Gene Wang

Memorable Moment
Garrigus will ‘never forget’ finish

Robert Garrigus lined up his par putt of some distance at No. 18, struck it dead solid perfect and watched as the ball disappeared into the cup. Just then, he pumped his right fist in a way that would have done Tiger Woods proud.

The putt not only assured Garrigus (6-under 278) a tie for third in just his second U.S. Open, but it also meant an invitation to the Masters next year. Those accomplishments had Garrigus in a wildly celebratory mood walking over the bridge at No. 18, and he wasn’t about to hold back following his 1-under 70 on Sunday.

He cupped both hands together and saluted the fans in the grandstand as he departed the 18th green at Congressional, and they cheered back with applause and yells of approval. Add to that his son joining him in Bethesda for Father’s Day, and the experience was more than a bit overwhelming.

“You know, it is so cool to have that many people rooting for you,” Garrigus said. “Like I said yesterday, it’s better than any drug you could ever take. You can’t buy it. You can’t bottle it, and man, it was a lot of fun today. Gosh, I’ll never forget this day for the rest of my life.”

What Garrigus will remember most, by his own admission, was the back nine of his final round that featured five birdies, including three in a row beginning at No. 15. That flourish more than offset a rough front side that began with a bogey at No. 1 and had him standing in the water on a subsequent hole to hit a shot.

But at the turn, Garrigus dashed into the clubhouse to put on a pair of dry socks, and apparently that made all the difference. He started the back with a birdie at No. 10, and his round took off from there.

“It gave me goosebumps for sure,” Garrigus said of his finish and the reception he received at 18. “That was one of the things I will never forget.”

— Gene Wang

Temper Tantrum
Stenson’s club slam is painful

Slamming one’s club on the ground violates the rules of etiquette on the golf course. It can also be hazardous to one’s health, as Henrik Stenson discovered Sunday.

Unhappy with his approach shot on the par-4, 490-yard No. 15, the Swede’s emotions got the best of him. Stenson drew back his club, hesitated, then slammed it into the fairway in anger. The steel shaft snapped in his hand and opened a gash between his thumb and forefinger.

After receiving some medical attention from his caddie in the form of gauze and a Band-aid, Stenson ended up scoring a bogey on the hole and finished the tournament tied for 23rd with 1-over 285.

— Tarik El-Bashir

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