For such things, Olympic is an absolute favorite venue. In ’66, Billy Casper never dreamed he’d beat Arnold Palmer when he trailed by seven shots with nine holes to play. Billy even asked Arnie to help him hold together to finish second. In ’55, Jack Fleck never thought he’d beat Ben Hogan in an 18-hole, head-to-head playoff. And Scott Simpson and Lee Janzen, though exceptional Open players, were out-of-the-blue winners here.
But Webb Simpson came in so low under the radar, after missing the cut in his previous two events, that the Air Force ought to try to patent his stealth technique. Yes, he was the No. 2 money-winner on the PGA Tour last year and came here ranked 14th in the world. But he’s been in a recent slump, fixing swing flaws, then, as recently as last week, fixing the flaw’s flaws.
“I never really wrapped my mind around winning at any point,” said Simpson who began the day tied for eighth place, shot a 2-under-par 68 to post a 1-over 281, then waited to see if the third-round co-leaders would complete their collapse and hand him the championship of his nation.
They did. Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell, both former U.S. Open champions, needed to shoot a one-over-par 71 to win outright or 72 to force a Monday playoffs, but both finished bitterly disappointed, with a 74 and 73 respectively. “The tournament was mine to win,” said Furyk, who never made a birdie and bogeyed the sixth, 13th, 16th (to fall out of the lead) and the 18th when he was forced to gamble for birdie.
“I’ve been a leader-board watcher all my life, but I didn’t think it could help me today. That course is so tough you can make three or four bogeys in a row at any time. I just tried to keep the ball in front of me,” said Simpson, locked in the moment all day and gloriously oblivious. “After I finished 18 [saving par from the fringe] was the first time I looked at a scoreboard since early on the front nine.”
Simpson sat with his wife, looking at video of their baby boy to calm his nervousness as he waited to see if either Furyk or McDowell could birdie the 344-yard 18th hole and force a Monday playoff.
“I did not want to play again tomorrow,” Simpson said.
Lest Simpson’s shock and natural modesty be used against him, lets point out firmly that he’s a qualified, deserving winner though — okay — his $6.3-million ’11 season is his only letter of introduction to the world and his ’11 start had been a little slipshod.
How could a player who’s relatively young burst from eighth place to win and, while you’re at it, Webb, what’s up with this 15 winners in golf’s last 15 major championships?