By Sam McPherson
For a whole year, PGA Tour veteran Dustin Johnson had to live with the memory of a missed putt on the 72nd hole that cost him a chance to win the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. This weekend, given another chance to win the same tournament, Johnson made good with a final-round 69 at the Oakmont Country Club in Plum, Pennsylvania. That score gave him a three-stroke victory over three runners-up, including 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk.
Johnson’s winning score of 4-under par was built upon steady play, as third-round leader Shane Lowry of Ireland collapsed, shooting 76 on Sunday. With such luminaries as Jason Day (2-over), Jordan Spieth (9-over), Rory McIlroy (missed cut) and Phil Mickelson (missed cut) way out of the spotlight, Johnson could finally bury 2015’s bad memories and other close losses. He claimed his first major championship just a few days before his 32nd birthday.
Following a clutch six-iron approach shot on the 18th hole to within five feet, Johnson’s final putt secured a birdie that he wasn’t sure if he would need, thanks to an odd decision by the United States Golf Association about an incident on the 5th hole. Playing with a potential penalty stroke hanging over his head, Johnson calmly forged ahead and never let Furyk, Lowry or Scott Piercy get close enough to matter. That trailing trio finished at 1-under, as the USGA’s decision to penalize Johnson after the round turned out to be immaterial.
The leaderboard had a distinct international flavor at the top as Spain’s Sergio García and South Africa’s Branden Grace — both already Tour winners this spring — tied for fifth place at even par. García’s first-round 68 gave hope that he might win his first major tournament, but he was unable to break par again for the rest of the event. Meanwhile, Grace’s finish was built upon a stellar third-round 66 that put his name in the Sunday afternoon conversation.
Yet the story on Sunday was all about Johnson’s consistency and Lowry’s collapse. The Irish golfer began the day with a four-shot lead, but had a hard time hitting anything right in the fourth round. Golf fans around the world have seen this type of painful finish plenty of times in recent years, as relatively inexperienced golfers struggle to close out wins on Sunday. Lowry had shot a 65 in the third round to take a commanding lead, but one day later, he was 11 strokes worse. Johnson was there to cash in, conquering his own past and collecting the $1.8 million winner’s check.
Nothing should take away Johnson’s win, but the penalty-stroke situation — and the way the USGA left Johnson hanging, without knowing if the penalty would be assessed — drew the ire of many golfers on Sunday. Both McIlroy and Spieth tweeted their disagreement with the USGA on the matter and defended Johnson’s right to know the penalty situation immediately rather than after his round.
Unfortunately, the USGA’s handling of Johnson’s penalty situation wasn’t the only challenge to the tournament’s successful conclusion. Weather delays caused a significant juggling of the schedule from the first round forward, and players were finishing rounds only to start the next on the same day throughout the tournament. To his credit, Johnson was not to be deterred from a major-championship victory.
Next On The Tee: Quicken Loans National
The PGA Tour heads south to the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, for the Quicken Loans National and its $6.9 million purse. Troy Merritt won the event last year with an 18-under par effort. This year the winner will earn $1.242 million for conquering a tough circuit that has hosted three U.S. Open Championships (1964, 1997, 2011) and one PGA Championship (1976). Founded in 2007, this PGA event is hosted by Tiger Woods and benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation.
Merritt returns to defend his title against former winners Bill Haas (2013) and K.J. Choi (2007). The field also will include Furyk and 2016 Wells Fargo winner James Hahn. Many of the Tour’s top golfers are taking off the week after the U.S. Open, which means the Quicken Loans National is wide open for younger players to get their first victory.
Seven U.S. Presidents have been members of Congressional Country Club, and former club members include such American icons as Charlie Chaplin, Vince Lombardi and William Randolph Hearst. The course originally was designed by Devereux Emmet, but was recently overhauled by Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones and Rees Jones. It is considered one of the country’s best courses.
The Congressional Country Club Blue Course plays 7,569 yards long and is a par 71.
Favorites: James Hahn, Kevin Streelman, Daniel Summerhays
Players to Watch: Jim Furyk, Bill Haas, Troy Merritt
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf and fantasy sports for CBS Local. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach. Follow him on Twitter @sxmcp, because he’s quite prolific despite also being a college English professor and a certified copy editor.