Beach weathered

McDowell wins US Open despite final-round 74

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / June 21, 2010

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — It took four days, but the US Open finally felt like the US Open. Heavy rough swallowed bad drives, birdies were scarce, bogeys and worse plentiful. Nerves became frayed, patience and perspective severely tested. More scores in the 80s than the 60s. Nobody, in the end, under par.

All those are US Open staples. The only surprising part was the winner. With everybody around him on the leaderboard either falling apart or hanging on for dear life, Graeme McDowell took advantage of the carnage and did just enough, winning the 110th US Open by one shot over Gregory Havret. McDowell shot a 3-over-par 74 at Pebble Beach Golf Links yesterday to complete 72 holes at even-par 284, the first time in four years that the winner was over par in the final round.

It had been 40 years since a European had won the US Open. And since none of the three Americans many expected to battle for the trophy — Dustin Johnson, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson — could come up with the necessary final round, nor Ernie Els, it was left to two Europeans. McDowell, from Northern Ireland, dodged a bullet when Havret missed an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 18 that would have tied the Frenchman for the lead. So McDowell, after driving into the right rough and watching Havret miss, took the safe route: He hit his second shot into the fairway, away from the trouble, then wedged his third shot to 20 feet. Two putts secured victory, his first on the PGA Tour.

“I’ve dreamed of this all my life, two putts to win the US Open. I couldn’t believe I actually had a 20-footer to do that,’’ said McDowell, a 30-year-old who lives in Orlando, Fla., and came in ranked 36th in the world. “Wow, this feels amazing.’’

On a cool, gray day that resembled most of the others from the week, it’s obvious that a combination of final-round pressure and a demanding links course affected everybody who began the day with a realistic chance of winning. Nobody within 10 shots of the third-round lead broke par in the final round.

As it turns out, Els would have needed only a 70 to win his third US Open. Woods would have grabbed his fourth with an even-par 71, Mickelson his first with a 69. All had gone lower in earlier rounds. None could find the right recipe when it mattered most.

“It’s disappointing because I started off so poorly again,’’ said Woods, who was 3 over through six holes, Pebble Beach’s easiest stretch. “The two major championships I finished, I had a chance to win both of them, so it’s not too bad.’’

One day after making eight birdies in a 66, Woods shot 75 and tied Mickelson (73) for fourth at 3 over. He also tied for fourth at the Masters, but remains stuck on 14 majors, four behind Jack Nicklaus’s record. He’ll resume the chase next month at St. Andrews, where he’s won the British Open the past two times it’s been held there.

Els got off to the quick start Woods was seeking, his birdies on Nos. 2, 4, and 6 pushing him to 3 under, tied for the lead with McDowell. But after McDowell broke the tie with a birdie on the par-3 fifth (his only one of the day), and then protected his lead with mid-length par saves on Nos. 7-8, Els wrecked his chances with a double bogey on No. 10, twice hitting into the hazard.

Havret, a virtual unknown who was ranked No. 391 last week, had perhaps the best round among those chasing the lead. He made two early birdies, and strung six straight pars together on Nos. 11-16, letting McDowell slowly come back to him. Only a bogey on the 17th and the missed putt at the 18th kept Havret from either a playoff or his name on the trophy.

“I’m very happy, but it’s also the biggest disappointment,’’ Havret said. “I’m very happy for Graeme, it breaks 40 years of hopes for Europeans, and I came in second. It’s very exciting.’’

It took Johnson, the 54-hole leader, just four holes to become almost an afterthought. After a shaky opening drive led to a par, he needed five shots to get down from near the greenside bunker on No. 2, the triple bogey erasing the three-stroke cushion he had worked so hard to build the first three days. He couldn’t find a pulled drive on No. 3, which forced him to go back to the tee and led to a double bogey, then drove it over the cliff and into the hazard on the fourth, resulting in bogey. Just like that, he was done.

Johnson never made a birdie, and his 82 is the highest score for a third-round leader since 1911.

McDowell isn’t much on golf history, but his spirits might have been lifted with the knowledge that in the previous four US Opens at Pebble Beach, the winner came out of the final group. With Johnson imploding, that put the pressure on McDowell to make it 5 for 5.

By the slimmest of margins, he was up to the task.

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