The 110th U.S. Open had only two winners, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Pebble Beach Golf Links

By Wil Barnes
Pebble Beach, CA. Ever watch Nascar? Every Sunday they fire up the cars and off they go racing at break neck speed, around and around. During the usual Firecracker 500 mile type races, there’s always a crash or two, some hair-raising, flip over fiery messes and after 480 miles we anticipate great racing and a dramatic finish, when is usually when I click on. Too many times the final 20 laps turn into a stop and start, six crash, caution flag flying medley that ends with some guy taking the checkered flag under one of those yellow cautions, surrendering the excitement to a ho-hum moan. Such is what took place at venerable Pebble Beach Golf Links in the 110th U.S. Open. Eventual winner Graeme McDowell, a nice Irish chap, snuck by and avoided all the accidents on his way to the checkered flag where he came in on fumes. At age 30, McDowell earned his first victory on U.S. soil along with hoisting the trophy for his first major and solidifying his reputation as a tremendous talent. Over the last year however, McDowell wasn’t the most heralded golfer from Northern Ireland, a distinction held by countryman Rory McElroy, because the 21-year-old rookie is touted as the next great player. Meanwhile McDowell has gone about winning in Europe, as recently as his last start, the Wales Open at Celtic Manor where he was hoping to impress Europe’s Ryder Cup Captain, Colin Montgomery. Following his victory in Wales he was still outside the top 8 that receive automatic selection onto the team. “I hope Monty took notice of my play, especially since this is where the Matches will be held,” McDowell said following that victory. Well he doesn’t need to worry about that anymore. McDowell jettisoned into the top 5 and regardless of how he plays from here out, the 2010 U.S. Open champion will be a fixture for years to come.
The affable Irishman played the most solid golf of the week, never once rising above par during all 72 holes, finishing right on the number with a two-putt par from 35 feet on the magnificent 18th at Pebble Beach under overcast skies. “Great day, obviously, I stuck to my game plan.  Did my job,” said the smiling winner. Even though he played solid, entering the final round he trailed 25 year-old Dustin Johnson, a back to back winner at the AT&T held at Pebble Beach the last two years, a 6’ 3” strutting South Carolina stud who looked assured of taming the famed 18 holes along the Monterey coastline. Instead he was the first car to crash, flip a few times and burn early making a horrific triple bogey on the second hole, only to follow that with a double at the par 4, third where his ball was found 19 seconds after the 5-minute clock had expired, leaving him to the lonely, unenviable trek back to the tee. Johnson tied the record for the worst finish by a 54-hole leader shooting an 11 over par 82. He crashed violently but he wasn’t alone as the big three, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Tiger Woods all failed to get through the chaos getting nicked along the way. And even though there was plenty of criticism being bantered about by some players about the course set up, it’s the U.S. Open and the best players found it frustrating that they could not make anything happen rendering the tournament to one that will remembered for it’s failures rather than a great Open. “I had a 15 foot eagle putt on 4 and I make par. That was frustrating,” said a disappointed Lefty. “I have a 5?iron into 6, and I make par. That was frustrating.” That forced Mickelson to take chances on the back nine in an attempt to win his first U.S. Open, which left him tied for third with Woods at plus 3. “At the turn, I was still under par for my round, even par for the tournament, which was the ultimately the winning score.  All I had to do was shoot even par in the back, and I’m in a playoff. I wasn’t able to do it, obviously.”
The world’s No.1 faired no better. Tiger had his chances but unlike his dazzling 66 on Saturday that propelled him into the next to last group on Sunday, the putts just didn’t fall. “It’s disappointing because I started off so poorly again and left myself above the hole,” chimed Tiger wearing the face of a defeated soul. “Every putt I missed was from above the hole.  Yesterday I made everything because it was all below the hole. These greens are bumpy enough where putts above the holes it’s just pot luck.” On Saturday Tiger once again electrified the crowd at 18 much like he did in the 2008 Open at Torrey Pines, striping a 3-wood from 260 yards, slicing it around the tree in the fairway where the ball scurried up onto the green coming to rest about 20 feet from a possible eagle. His putt turned just in front of the hole but the buzz had the sound of the “vuvuzelas.”
The latter of the Big Three Ernie Els, seeking his third U.S. Open title found himself tied for the lead after a great start Sunday and the crash of Johnson at minus 3 with McDowell. Playing two groups ahead of the final group Ernie succumbed to the nastiness of Pebble Beach losing stokes on 9 and 10 with arrant drives. He hit the best shot of the day at the tortuous par 3, 12th curling it up to 2 feet for birdie. That would be his last heroics. By the time he reached the 18th he was unable to birdie the par 5, 14th and bogey the much talked about par 3, 17th eliminating any chance he had of winning. The frustration was such that he left the scorer’s trailer at days end, simply throwing his hands in the air in disgust, yelled to his caddie Ricci Roberts, “Ricci, let’s go. Now,” and B-lined it for the Lexus courtesy car.
Almost annually, the U.S. Open has a no name character and this year it was Gregory Havret from France who overshadowed the Big Three playing outstanding golf alongside Tiger. “Who would have thought that Havret would beat Tiger straight up on Sunday?” barked ESPN’s Chris Berman behind the green. True, who would? With a solid tee to green game, the Frenchman steadily rolled along staying within striking distance until a missed eight-footer for birdie on 18 that allowed McDowell the option of to lay up. “When I saw him not birdie 18, I had my decision made,” said McDowell. “I laid it up, and obviously took my five, and they gave me this thing. I couldn’t believe it.” Havret came into the Open ranked 391 in the world and had to sink a 40-footer on the last hole of European qualifying just to get into a 6-man playoff for five spots, into the Open. “It’s been a really good day, a really calm day,” he said. “I felt good. I just kept focusing on my game, my good points of the week.” He birdied the first and then again on the 6th, but failed to get another the rest of the way. “But for sure, to play golf like this, compete for the title is great. Just before 17, 16 I was really playing fine and I had some opportunities and then nearly holed that long putt on 16. That shot on 17 was a little bit too much right, but down the middle of the club and it’s a shame I didn’t make that one up and down.  It’s a shame I didn’t get up?and?down on the last.” Havret finished solo second and earned $810,000, his biggest check ever.
Back on the 18th green the celebration and emotions were running high, as McDowell’s dad ran into his son’s arms on Father’s Day in a very moving moment. About an hour or so before the finish, those who were around the 18th green witnessed another moving and sentimental occurrence when the ageless Tom Watson strolled up the final fairway in what inevitably will be his last competitive round of the U.S. Open, the tournament he won at Pebble in 1982. Watson now holds the distinction of being the only player to have competed in all five Opens played at Pebble Beach. This one was tough emotionally for the 8-time major winner, especially with his son on the bag. “There were a lot of emotions going on there on 18 today,” said a tearful Watson. “It was overwhelming today coming up the 18th hole. Just after I hit my 3?wood into the bunker it started to hit me. It’s Father’s Day, with your son on the bag, that’s when it started hitting me. And the memories started to hit me again, and it’s just a wonderful feeling to be here at Pebble Beach.” He explained how Jack Nicklaus who missed a similar putt ten years ago in his own farewell told him, “it’s pretty hard to make that with tears in your eyes.” Watson who threw his ball into the Pacific upon holing out, has dazzled golfers and fans for years including an almost mythical win at last year’s British Open, began the week with a 78 that he followed with 71, 70 and 75, some pretty stellar golf for a 60 year-old. He delivered an emotional end to his final round. “I am a golfer. It’s what I do, all I have ever done. It’s my passion. It’s what we’re out here for.  It’s what we’re out here to play golf for is to play in championships such as the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.”
Standing behind the green were two young college kids who tied for the low amateur honors, Scott Langley of Big Ten Illinois and Russel Hendley of SEC Georgia. They stuck out like, well, like college kids, with their little khaki pants, school golf hats and windbreakers, their eyes as big as movie screens taking it all in. Langley actually shot 71 on Sunday with only 20 putts. Hendley tied Phil and Tiger with a 73, and both beat Ernie who finished with a 74, the same as the winner McDowell. .
But the day and the week belonged to the steady Graeme McDowell. Born in Northern Ireland he played his golf mostly at famed Royal Portrush, a terribly demanding course in its own right. ”I thought I executed my game plan really well every day, stayed patient most days,” he said clutching the trophy. “Thursday was probably my most impatient day. I felt like I felt a little frustrated out there. I was proud of myself the way I stayed calm today. To win at Pebble Beach, to join the names, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Tiger Woods, me (laughter) wow.  I’m not quite sure if I belong in that list, but, hey, I’m there now. It’s a pretty amazing feeling.”
Mc Dowell is not a long hitter, just a steady player who found quite a culture shock when he arrived at the University of Alabama Birmingham on a golf scholarship. “Yeah, that was something coming from a town of about 20,000 to this nig America city,” he said. Graeme said he was sure there were be a few adult beverages drank from the cup, and he wasn’t sure when he would sober up from this win. McDowell was well deserved in his victory and there could be more majors in his golf career for sure. Still, it was a strange U.S. Open. It lacked those great moments like Nicklaus’ one-iron and Watson’s chip in but it sure beat the sloppy mess of Bethpage in ’09. Unlike 2000, patrons were not allowed in the Lodge unless they possessed one of the elite passes that were limited to a couple of hundred. The separation of classes was quite evident but it was still Pebble Beach, even if the sun refused to shine on Father’s Day. A little sunshine would have gone a long way, on a day where the play was as dreary as the skies. Perhaps a few vuvulezas would’ve not been so bad.

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