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Northern Ireland’s McDowell keeps composure, pulls U.S. Open surprise

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Gary D’Amato
June 21, 2010
— Before the final round of the 110th U.S. Open Championship, if somebody had thrown four names at you—Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Graeme McDowell—which would you have predicted would best handle the suffocating pressure and emerge triumphant?

If you picked McDowell, you were either quaffing pints in a pub somewhere in Portrush, Northern Ireland, or you didn’t know squat about golf.


But that’s the thing about this crazy game. Every once in a while, a Jack Fleck or an Orville Moody or a Y.E. Yang comes along to slay the giants and remind us that the golf gods play no favorites.


McDowell, 30, kept his head while those around him were falling on their swords Sunday and became the first European since Tony Jacklin in 1970 to win the U.S. Open.


He shot a final-round 74 at the picturesque Pebble Beach Golf Links to finish at even-par 284, one stroke ahead of France’s Gregory Havret, two ahead of Els and three ahead of Woods and Mickelson.


“I think I’ve died and gone to heaven,” McDowell said. “This can’t be really real. I don’t think this will ever sink in. It’s a very special feeling to pick this trophy up on the 18th green of one of the most special golf courses on the planet.”


There’s no better way to summarize the day than to say the field leaked more oil than British Petroleum. Johnny Miller probably wanted to climb down from the NBC tower and suit up.


Third-round leader Dustin Johnson made a ghastly triple-bogey on the second hole. He turned a club upside down, tried to hit a shot left-handed from a horrible lie and moved the ball six feet. Then, he swung right-handed and moved it four feet.


A discombobulated Johnson lurched to a double-bogey on No. 3 and was done. Paired with McDowell, he still had to play 15 more holes as The Invisible Man and shot an 82, not that anybody was counting.


Woods, coming off a 66 in the third round and seemingly poised to make a run at his fourth U.S. Open title and his 15th major championship, never got within shouting distance of the lead.


He bogeyed the first hole, was 3-over after six and shot a 75 to finish in a fourth-place tie, which matched his Masters finish in April.


Asked what he would take from the day, Woods said, “Not a whole lot.”


Mickelson, the reigning Masters champion and a five-time U.S. Open runner-up, shot a 1-under-par 34 on the front nine but three-putted for bogey on No. 10 and made two more bogeys coming in.


He hit some poor shots, spinning a wedge off the green from 86 yards on No. 14, short-siding himself from 135 yards on No. 16 and hitting a relatively easy bunker shot through the green on No. 18.


Mickelson shot a 73 and tied for fourth with Woods at 3-over-par 287.


“All I had to do was shoot even-par on the back (to force a playoff), and I didn’t do it,” Mickelson said. “I’m just glad it wasn’t second (place).”


Els, a two-time U.S. Open champion who finished a distant second to Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000, made a nice run with birdies on three of the first six holes to get to 3-under for the championship.


But Els hit his tee shot in the hazard on No. 10, took a drop with a penalty shot and then hit another ball in the hazard short of the green. He walked off with a costly double-bogey.


Els shot a 73 and finished alone in third with a 286.


It came down to McDowell and Havret, a qualifier playing in his first U.S. Open. No Frenchman has won a major since Arnaud Massy held off John H. Taylor to win the ’07 British Open … that’s the 1907 British Open.


“It’s been a great week,” said Havret, ranked 391st in the world. “I holed a 50-footer to win a playoff and qualify to get here, and then all of a sudden, I’m here playing with Tiger.


“Of course, I’m a bit disappointed now because I’ve been so close to heaven.”


Havret made nice par saves on Nos. 14 and 15 to stay within one shot of McDowell, but bogeyed No. 17 from a greenside bunker and then failed to birdie the 513-yard par-5 18th, badly pulling an 8-foot attempt.


McDowell also bogeyed No. 17 and led by one going to the 18th. He hit a good drive and watched Havret miss the birdie ahead of him.


All McDowell had to do was avoid a stupid mistake—a tall order on this day—and he would win the U.S. Open.


He laid up to 99 yards with a short-iron, hit a wedge 25 feet past the hole and cozied his birdie putt down the slope to within 18 inches for the tap-in and the victory.


“I’m playing the golf of my life right now,” McDowell said. “And to pick up this trophy right now … I don’t know how much partying I’m going to do over the next three months. Probably I should sober up pre-Ryder Cup at some point.”


Somewhere in Portrush, the stout is flowing.



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