NONE would argue that Lee Westwood lost the US Open because his ball lodged in a tree. Yet this bizarre episode on the fifth fairway that stole the momentum from Westwood's challenge on Sunday was representative of a quirky week that gave us the 15th different winner in successive major championships.
The 112th US Open made a proud champion of Webb Simpson, who only 18 months ago stood outside the world's top 200. Simpson negotiated the Olympic minefield with two rounds of 68 across the weekend. He played fine golf and was a worthy winner.
The problem for the United States Golf Association, which takes such pride in the rigorous nature of the US Open challenge, is the number of players who also played great golf and through no fault of their own saw their excellence punished by a course that allowed the random variable too much influence.
Westwood, who closed four shots adrift in a share of 10th, said: "You hit so many good tee shots that don't finish on the fairway and so many good shots that don't finish on the green. You could've understood it if my tee shot [at 5] was way off line, but it was on the perfect line. You've got to cut that corner and try to hold it up against that slope, because the fairway is so severe. So I thought I'd hit the perfect line, but it ended getting stuck up in the pine needles, and we couldn't find it. It was hard to get any momentum going after that."
Graeme McDowell shared the sentiment. McDowell began the final round sharing a two-shot lead with Jim Furyk. In common with most at the top of the leader board, he spent a frantic final day going backwards. With only four players at the top of the field in red numbers, it is fair to argue that the course produced the winner that made fewest mistakes, rather than the most creative, imaginative golf.
McDowell still had a putt at the last to force a play-off but saw it slide by the hole. McDowell said: "I hit three fairways all day. It's not like I drove the ball awful. I just seemed to hit it in the semi-rough all day [but] I was proud of the way I hung in and [gave] myself half a chance on 18. I missed that fairway by a foot and my ball's sitting down so I hit it about as close as I could. And that putt, it was weird, because it bumped left. I hit that putt in practice and it moved right."
Simpson, too, missed the fairway on the last. His approach found the penal rough but providence was smiling on him. His ball landed in a bald patch that appeared gouged by a previous escapee. From there he was able to get the ball close. He was in the locker room with his wife trying not to look when McDowell's putt missed. "I never really wrapped my mind around winning. When Graeme missed and I realised I had won, I just shook my head in disbelief."
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