Another Simpson Wins U.S. Open At Olympic
By Thomas Bonk
San Francisco – From back in the pack and out of the fog, Webb Simpson emerged as the 2012 U.S. Open champion on Sunday at The Olympic Club, surging past the seven players in front of him on the last day, shooting a 2-under 68 and claiming a one-stroke victory.
Simpson, 26, and playing in only his second U.S. Open, edged Graeme McDowell and Michael Thompson with a rock-solid closing round that featured a stretch of four birdies in five holes and not a single bogey in his final 13 holes.
“I never really wrapped my mind about winning, the place is so demanding, and so all I was really concerned about was keeping the ball in front of me,” said Simpson, the second golfer with that surname to win a U.S. Open at The Olympic Club. Scott Simpson (no relation) edged Tom Watson by a stroke in 1987.
“The pressure, I couldn’t feel my legs most of the back nine.”
McDowell, the 54-hole co-leader along with Jim Furyk, could have forced a playoff, but his 24-foot birdie attempt slid just to the left at the 18th hole. He finished with a 73. Furyk did not make a birdie in the final round. He bogeyed two of the last three holes and dropped into a four-way tie for fourth with a 74 (3-over 283).
Furyk and McDowell continued Olympic’s trend of not producing a champion from a 54-hole leaders.
Simpson posted rounds of 72-73-68-68 for a 1-over par total of 281.
“Every day my game got a little better,” said Simpson, who became the fourth consecutive U.S. Open champion at Olympic to shoot 68 in the final round. “I told myself don’t get too excited, just try to make some pars.”
David Toms and Padraig Harrington both shot 68 to finish at three over, the same as John Peterson, Jason Dufner and Furyk.
It was a difficult finish for Furyk, in search of his second U.S. Open title. Needing a birdie at the 18th to catch Simpson, the 2003 champion missed the fairway, then landed his approach in a greenside bunker. He immediately dropped to his knees and clenched his golf club with his teeth in disappointment.
“I don’t know how to put that one into words,” Furyk said. “I had my opportunities and my chances and I was right there… I needed to play those last three better.”
McDowell had trouble with his accuracy off the tee – he hit only four fairways – and came up short in his attempt to duplicate his 2010 U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach.
“There’s a mixture of emotions inside me right now,” McDowell said. “Obviously disappointment, deflation, pride. But mostly just frustration because I hit [four] fairways today. That’s the U.S. Open. You’re supposed to hit it in some fairways. And that was the key today really.”
Simpson is the 15th consecutive different major champion, the last nine being first-time major winners. He is also the fifth consecutive past Walker Cup player to win the Open, joining Tiger Woods (2008), Lucas Glover (2009), McDowell (2010) and Rory McIlroy (2011), the latter two of which competed for Great Britain and Ireland.
At the greenside ceremony afterward, Simpson held the gleaming silver U.S. Open Trophy, then gave it a kiss, and later posed with past Olympic Open champions Jack Fleck (1955) and Billy Casper (1966). He also earned $1.44 million for his victory.
Simpson, who has won twice before on the PGA Tour, began the round four shots behind Furyk and McDowell and was two over after his first five holes. But he was nearly flawless the rest of the way. He began his four-birdie stretch at the sixth, which played as the hardest hole on the course, when he hit a driver and then a 7-iron to five feet and made the putt.
Simpson had 13 birdies in four days; only Thompson and Martin Kaymer had more.
Thompson’s 67 was the lowest round of the day and the 27-year-old, who led after he first round, said he couldn’t be any happier with his week after qualifying to play in the Open for a second time.
“It’s a game,” said Thompson, the low amateur in 2008 at Torrey Pines. “And it’s meant to be enjoyed. I think it’s very easy for us as professionals to turn it into a job. When you do that, it’s hard to succeed because then you’re not understanding the whole process on how to play and that’s what the game’s meant for. This is a dream job. I’m thankful for it every day.”
For the final round, the tee at the 670-yard 16th was moved up 101 yards so that the hole played at 569 yards, which meant the Lake Course measured exactly 6,999 yards. That may have been the first indication that nice round numbers would be difficult to come by.
Woods made the discovery early, with a bogey-bogey-double bogey start that essentially extinguished any lingering hopes. Woods, the 36-hole co-leader, wound up with a 73 and finished in a tie for 21st.
“I didn't really miss it that badly this week,” said the three-time U.S. Open champion. “The misses were just a fraction off, which is great. That's what we want to have happen. And this golf course is just so demanding that a fraction off you pay the price.”
There were countless struggles to keep the momentum going, or even discover some, and many who began the day very much in the hunt couldn’t keep up.
Lee Westwood lost a ball in a cypress tree at the fifth and fell back with a double bogey. Fredrik Jacobson counted four bogeys on the outward nine and fell off. Nicolas Colsaerts, paired with Simpson in the fourth-to-last group, began with four consecutive bogeys. Ernie Els chipped in for eagle at the seventh to move up, but followed with back-to-back bogeys and fell back. He finished solo ninth at 4-over 284.
“There were probably six, eight guys today that felt like they were going to win the golf tournament,” Furyk said. “And so, I guess, going back to how disappointed you are, I really felt like I had a lot of confidence in myself and you feel like you’re going to win the golf tournament, so when you don’t, it’s that much more disappointing.”
Simpson and his wife, Dowd, were in the locker room together, sitting on a bench and watching McDowell and Furyk play the 18th hole. Simpson called it a “nerve wracking” experience. When McDowell couldn’t get his birdie putt to fall, Dowd covered her mouth in excitement and Simpson leaned over to her and whispered softly to her.
“We won,” he said.
Thomas Bonk is a San Francisco-based freelance writer who is contributing to usopen.com this week.