Webb Simpson finished with the lowest 72-hole score, but did he really win the US Open? Or did Jim Furyk, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Ernie Els, and even Tiger Woods lose it?
An interesting four days at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, the 112th US Open won by a player who not once held the outright lead while he was on the course, a true rarity in professional golf. Yet because Simpson was the one who ultimately backed up the least, there he was on Sunday night, kissing his pregnant wife, smiling for photographers, and hurrying for a red-eye flight back home to North Carolina, where he’d spend roughly 24 hours before jetting off for this week’s tournament.
Score another one for the new guard, which seems to be taking it to the old guard, at least when it comes to major championships. Simpson, Bubba Watson at the Masters, and Keegan Bradley at last year’s PGA have extended a trend. Watson is the oldest of the three, at 33; Simpson and Bradley are 26. Other recent major winners include Rory McIlroy (23), Charl Schwartzel (27), Martin Kaymer (27), and Louis Oosthuizen (29).
Simpson’s victory makes it 15 consecutive majors that have been won by a different person, and nine straight in which a first-timer has come through. For all the extra attention and ratings spike that Woods has brought when he’s won - he’s always been great for golf, and makes it more relevant in the world of mainstream sports when he plays well - seeing all these new, young names get etched onto major championship trophies has been refreshing.
Take Simpson. He’s earned his rightful place in the game through a combination of skill, opportunity, and good fortune. Two years ago this week, he was ranked 208th in the world. Now he’s No. 5.
After winning for the first time on the PGA Tour last August in Greensboro, N.C., Simpson captured the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston, shooting a final-round 65. But he worked his way into a playoff only when Chez Reavie couldn’t make par with a wedge in his hands from the middle of the fairway on the par-5 18th.
Sunday’s US Open wasn’t quite as gift-wrapped, but looking at the leaderboard and the names in front of him at the start of the day, Simpson might not have predicted that a 1-over-par total would be enough to win.
It was, thanks to his second straight 68 and over-par final rounds by Furyk and McDowell, Westwood and Els, and Woods, who sunk his chances by getting off to a poor start yet again, after working his way into a share of the lead through 36 holes. Tiger tied for a major lead used to mean the field had little chance. Now the same odds can be applied to Woods, who hasn’t shown the ability to close strong in majors the past four years and end the longest drought of his career.
Similarly, Els at 42 isn’t the same ol’ Ernie, try as he might. Westwood - no better evidence than the drive at No. 5 that never came down from the trees - seems cursed, perhaps fated to be another Colin Montgomerie, who came close but never broke the tape, at least not when it mattered most.
Likewise, Furyk was done in by his own untimely drive, this one a wicked snipe off the 16th tee when he and Simpson were tied for the lead. It led to bogey. Furyk said afterward that with three closing holes that could have put wedge in his hands for approach shots, needing just one birdie to win, he should have gotten the job done. Instead, he bogeyed two of the final three holes. So did Els.
You can choose to lament lost chances by well-known stars, or hype the heroics of guys such as Michael Thompson, John Peterson, and Jordan Spieth, who seem to indicate that the influx of young, talented Americans goes well beyond Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson.
Add Simpson to the list now, too. In his last 21 PGA Tour starts - dating to last August in Greensboro - Simpson has three wins, a playoff loss, a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, an eighth, and a pair of 10th-place ties. He’s earned $6,357,597 over that stretch, or more than $300,000 per start. And that’s just in official money. It doesn’t include lucrative corporate outings or silly-season events such as the Shark Shootout and Tiger’s Chevron Challenge.
It also doesn’t include the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, reserved for the four major winners each year. Simpson’s busy schedule now includes a late October trip to Bermuda.
Cleaning out a few other Open-related items from the notebook:
Expect the US Golf Association to bring the US Open back to Olympic Club, although it won’t be for quite some time; sites are booked through 2019, when it’s at Pebble Beach, and they won’t go to the same area in consecutive years. The Olympic Club is attractive because the USGA loves the course, loves San Francisco, loves the weather (rarely any rain that time of year), and loves broadcasting golf in prime time on the East Coast . . . Television numbers were up 29 percent from 2011, when the US Open was played near Washington, D.C., but were down from the last two times it was played in California and a prime-time East Coast finish. NBC earned a 6.6 share and 13 rating for Sunday’s final-round broadcast, when it went up, at least toward the end, against Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Those numbers weren’t as good as the final rounds in 2008 at Torrey Pines in San Diego (8.5), when Woods won, or 2010 at Pebble Beach (6.9) . . . Next year’s US Open is at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., and tickets are already available at www.usga.org . . . Andrew Dudley, the self-dubbed “Jungle Bird’’ who disrupted Simpson’s on-camera victory presentation Sunday night and began making bird noises, told CNN that he was arrested for his antics, but won’t face charges. Dudley, who was dragged away from Simpson’s NBC interview with Bob Costas by Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, said he was protesting deforestation.