ARDMORE, Pa. — Steve Stricker was attempting to become the oldest champion in US Open history. Luke Donald was trying to become the first US Open winner from Britain in 43 years — although that’s no longer the case. Both were sidetracked by errant shots early in the final round that inflicted some damage.
In Stricker’s case, it was psychological. Starting the round one shot back and playing at Merion Golf Club in the next-to-last group, he made a routine par at the first. Then his day blew up. His drive on the par-5 second sailed right, over the fence and out of bounds. His next drive found the fairway, but the next swing — his fourth shot — produced a stone-cold shank. Also over the fence, also out of bounds. He worked hard to make a triple-bogey 8, but that kind of score, especially in the final round, simply isn’t made by the eventual champion.
“Not the start I was looking for,” said Stricker, who would have edged Hale Irwin (45 in 1990) for oldest US Open champion. “I felt good, felt relaxed. I was excited for the day. Just the nature of the game, I guess. It puts you in place rather quickly at times.
“I’m not over this yet, but it won’t take me long.”
Stricker can have that mentality; he’s semi-retired, making the decision earlier this year to scale back his schedule so he can spend more time at home in Wisconsin with his wife and children. He’s done well as a part-time player; with his tie for eighth here (he closed with 76), Stricker has four finishes of eighth or better in seven starts this year.
For the 35-year-old Donald, he’s still in the prime of his career, looking to win his first major championship, like Stricker.
The pain he unknowingly inflicted Sunday was physical. Donald also started with a par, and added another at No. 2. But his tee shot on the par-3 third — which played a very robust 266 yards, a length that had Phil Mickelson barking at a US Golf Association official after playing the hole — was yanked left, out of Donald’s view. What he couldn’t see is that it struck a young female volunteer, knocking her to the ground and leaving her dazed.
It appeared to rattle Donald, who played the next four holes in five over par: bogey-bogey-bogey-double bogey.
“Unfortunately, you never like that to happen, it was a very tough break for her,” said Donald, who had a 75 and tied Stricker at 6 over. “I felt pretty bad at the time, obviously played that stretch pretty poorly. But I come away with some positive feelings. I got in position in a US Open. I haven’t really done that in my career. So, there’s definitely positives.”
For a few minutes Sunday, it looked as if Jason Dufner and Ernie Els would post an early total that, depending on what happened behind them, might give either an outside shot at the championship.
Dufner had the round of the day going, making five birdies over his first 13 holes and climbing to 3 over for the tournament.
Then he arrived at the 15th, scene of some big numbers (10 and 8 for Sergio Garcia), and made one of his own. Dufner hit his tee shot out of bounds to the left, then three-putted for triple bogey. He rebounded with a birdie at the 17th, but even a 67 (tied for low round of the day with Hideki Matsuyama) left him at 5 over, ultimately tied for fourth.
“Unfortunately, that front nine yesterday, and one bad swing on 15 today, is probably going to end me up a few short,” Dufner said. “I’m happy with my game, I just have to figure out how to get a couple of putts to fall.”
Els, last year’s British Open champion, was trying to join Arnold Palmer as the only players to win the US Open after trailing by seven shots with 18 holes to play.
He made five birdies in the final round, the last at the 17th hole to push him to 4 over and within three of the lead at the time, with the leaders all yet to face Merion’s brutal closing stretch.
But Els bogeyed No. 18, shooting a 69 and finishing tied for fourth.
“I was just trying to get as much out of my round as I could,” Els said. “Unfortunately, bogeyed 18. But some really nice shots, started playing the course the way it should be played.”
Going the wrong way
Tiger Woods was hoping to make history at Merion, joining an impressive list of champions that includes Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, and Lee Trevino. Woods made history, but not in the way he likes. With a final-round 74, Woods finished 13 over par, his 72-hole worst score in relation to par in any major championship as a professional.
“I’m sorry that the golf wasn’t what I would like to have it,” Woods said. “I did a lot of things right. Unfortunately, I did a few things wrong, as well.”
One to remember
Sometimes, we all know, a bad shot can have a funny way of winding up in a good spot. Just ask Shawn Stefani, who pulled his tee ball on the par-3 17th hole, then watched in amazement as it kicked right off a hill and onto the green, caught the slope, and rolled into the hole for an unlikely ace. Stefani’s first hole-in-one as a professional — he’d had just one before, as a 13-year-old — was the highlight in a final-round 69.
“I didn’t know what to do but jump up and down for joy,” said Stefani, who finished at 19 over (he shot 85 on Saturday). “I had a rough day yesterday, and to end the way I did with an ace on 17 and to have the crowd go crazy and everything was definitely a very positive experience at the end.”
At head of his class
It ended with his highest round of the tournament, but a Sunday 76 still gave 19-year-old Michael Kim low amateur honors. He tied for 17th at 10 over. The other three amateurs to make the cut were Cheng-Tsung Pan (15 over, tied for 45th), Kevin Phelan (20 over, tied for 62d), and Michael Weaver (21 over, 64th) . . . Webb Simpson tied for 32d at 13 over, which means there hasn’t been a back-to-back US Open champion since Curtis Strange in 1988-89. Strange started his double at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., then won the next year at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., which is the site of this year’s PGA Championship . . . Next year’s US Open will be at Pinehurst No. 2. For the first time, the USGA will stage both the US Open and US Women’s Open at the same course in consecutive weeks.Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.