Graeme McDowell hangs on to win U.S. Open for his first major title

The world's best golfers vie for the chance to win the 110th rendition of the tournament.
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 21, 2010

PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. -- There is no way to tell the story of what happened here Sunday without squinting, shuddering, averting the eyes. Pebble Beach Golf Links, among the most beautiful places in all of sports, hosted the final round of a U.S. Open that will, unfortunately, be remembered for its abject ugliness. Think back to the last, great, meaningful golf shot struck here. Tiger Woods's 3-wood from the 18th fairway, the one that ran some 260 yards onto the green? Tremendous. Problem was, it came Saturday evening.

Emerging from the carnage, meet your U.S. Open champion: Graeme McDowell, a 30-year-old from Portrush, Northern Ireland, who nearly didn't qualify to be here but was resilient all week, the only man to finish at even-par 284 for the tournament. His final-round 74 Sunday -- he made one birdie, and bogeyed four of his final 10 holes -- won't stand out among the best ever played, but it was exactly what was necessary, and it left him hugging first his father on Father's Day, which was plenty.

"I think I died and gone to heaven for sure," said McDowell, the first European to win the U.S. Open since England's Tony Jacklin in 1970. "This can't be real. I don't think this will ever sink in."

The dragon he slew? That would be Frenchman Gregory Havret, whose ranking in the world was 391, who needed to hit a 45-foot putt just to make the playoff in a European qualifying event, and whose name was on the lips of exactly no one when the week began. But playing alongside Woods, Havret's closing 1-over-par 72 was the best round in the last four twosomes of the day -- a remarkable achievement, given he had never played a U.S. Open before -- but one shot short of forcing a playoff.

"My feeling right now is it's probably the best surprise for me," Havret said. "So I'm very happy. But it's also the biggest disappointment."

The disappointments, though, only start there. Even with McDowell's fine performance, the memories of this Sunday at Pebble Beach -- a day that, in the past, was marked by Jack Nicklaus's 1-iron at 17, Tom Watson's chip-in on the same hole, Tom Kite's holed pitch at 7 or Woods's astonishing record victory in 2000 -- will be not of what he did, but what others failed to do.

How many of the other competitors could put their heads on pillows around the world Sunday night, and rest comfortably? The detritus consists of golf's greatest stars. Here are the scores those players could have shot on Sunday -- and forced a Monday playoff with McDowell:

Woods, with 14 major championships to his credit, needed a 1-over 72. Ernie Els, winner of two previous Opens, needed an even-par 71. Phil Mickelson, a four-time major winner and five-time Open runner-up, needed a 1-under 70. And Dustin Johnson, the third-round leader who won the past two PGA Tour events here, needed all of a 6-over 77. Their results, respectively: 75, 73, 73 and an absolutely out-of-nowhere 82.

"It was anybody's ballgame," Mickelson said.

True, but precious few chose to play.

Start with Johnson, because of all the wonderful golf that was played over the first three days here, he had authored the best. When he rose Sunday, he stood at 6 under, carrying a three-shot lead over McDowell. When he made par at 1 and drilled his drive at the 502-yard second, there was no indication of what was to come.

Johnson's approach at the second, though, found an awkward lie at the edge of a bunker, one he tried to play left-handed. That fell in the thick rough. He flubbed the next chip, and the collapse was on. Through 54 holes, the smooth-as-molasses South Carolinian made five bogeys and one double. The triple bogey he made at the second -- one that gave back all of his lead -- started a precipitous downfall that gave him, over his final 18 holes, six bogeys, a double and that triple, resulting in the highest final-round score by a third-round leader in 99 years.

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