US Open Golf at Oakmont–Dustin Johnson is 2016 Champion


June 20, 2016

New York

US Open Golf at Oakmont–Dustin Johnson is 2016 Champion

Dustin Johnson after winning the 116th United States Open. He had lost two other majors in unusual ways and found himself in a bizarre situation Sunday with a potential penalty hanging over him. Credit Michael Madrid/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

OAKMONT, Pa. — As Dustin Johnson teed off in the final round of the 116th United States Open, his mind-set was simple.

He would ignore the ghosts of majors past. Forget about Shane Lowry’s four-stroke lead. Ignore top-ranked Jason Day and all the other players giving chase at Oakmont Country Club. “It’s just me and the course,” he told himself.

But on the way to victory Sunday, it would become more complicated for Johnson, seemingly one of the most uncomplicated athletes to roam a golf course. Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, described Johnson this month as “a freak golf athlete,” and it is true. His opening drive of the fourth round traveled 378 yards. Enough said.

Aside from being known as a freak athlete, Johnson had a reputation for losing majors in freaky fashion. He lost the 2015 United States Open to Spieth when he three-putted the 72nd hole from 12 feet. He lost the 2010 tournament with a final-round 82 that was like a summons server, materializing out of nowhere.

Johnson held the lead at the halfway point of last year’s British Open, but finished tied for 49th when he could not break par in the final two rounds. He lost the 2010 P.G.A. Championship when he grounded his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole and incurred a penalty that kept him out of a playoff, won by Martin Kaymer.

After his brain cramp at the P.G.A. Championship, Johnson drew criticism for not summoning a rules official to assess if the spot where his ball had come to rest was in one of the hundreds of bunkers that pockmark Whistling Straits.

Fast-forward six years to Sunday, when Johnson saw his ball move on the fifth green. He did not believe he had caused the ball to oscillate, but to be on the safe side, he called a rules official. After a brief discussion, the official determined that no infraction had occurred, and Johnson stepped up and made the par putt to remain one under for the round and four under for the tournament.

Johnson made the turn in two-under 33. On the 12th tee, he was approached by United States Golf Association officials, who explained that a video review had indicated that he might have caused the ball to move in the process of placing his putter behind it at address. He was told that he most likely would be assessed a one-stroke penalty after his round.

Shane Lowry, who led by four strokes after 54 holes, after a missed putt in the final round. Credit Andrew Redington/Getty Images

At that moment, Johnson was two strokes clear of the field, but it was not just him and the course anymore. It was him and the course and the U.S.G.A. rules committee and his 0-for-28 record in the majors. There were enough factors to clog his head and cloud his thinking.

But Johnson kept calm. Despite a bogey at the 14th hole, he played the final seven holes in even par, making clutch par putts at Nos. 16 and 17 and a birdie at the 18th, which rendered the one-stroke penalty a moot point.

Johnson finished four under par at 276, three strokes ahead of Jim Furyk, Scott Piercy and Lowry.

In the final round at Chambers Bay last year, Johnson had hit two of his best shots of the week on the 18th hole, only to miss a 12-foot putt for eagle to win and three-footer for a birdie that would have forced an 18-hole playoff with Spieth.

On Sunday, with the crowd lining the 18th hole chanting his initials, Johnson hit two of his best shots of the week and made the five-foot putt for birdie to finish with a 69 (with the penalty).

Furyk, the 2003 champion who tied for second at the 2007 Open when it was at Oakmont, closed with a four-under 66 and was the leader in the clubhouse for almost two hours at one under.

Lowry and Piercy were the last two players with a chance to pass Johnson, but Piercy played the back nine in one over for a 69, and Lowry bogeyed three of the last five holes en route to a 76.

Johnson, Furyk, Piercy and Lowry were the only players to break par. Sergio García (70) and Branden Grace (71) tied for fifth at even-par 280.

In his first major, Andrew Landry, who had been at or near the top during the first three days, closed with a 78 to finish in a tie for 15th at five over.

Lee Westwood, who started the fourth round one stroke behind Johnson, with whom he was paired, posted an 80 and tied for 32nd.

With his victory, Johnson, who turns 32 on Wednesday, took himself out of the running for the “best player never to have won a major” honorarium, leaving Westwood (0 for 73) and García (0 for 71) to duke it out.

“Feels well deserved,” Johnson said. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities that I didn’t quite get it done. So this one definitely feels good.”

When Johnson came off the 18th green, scooped his 18-month-old son, Tatum, in his arms and embraced his fiancée, Paulina Gretzky, he had no idea whether he would be signing for a 68 or a 69. He was glad that it didn’t matter.

“Because that would have been bad,” he said. “But you know, it worked out.”

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