SAN FRANCISCO – James Frederick “Webb” Simpson has an aw-shucks quality about him. It keeps him grounded. It also prevents him from getting caught up in other golfers’ spotlight.
And while he might be familiar with the history of U.S. Opens at the Olympic Club – a notorious burial ground for big names – he would have rather been part of it than read about it.
Never really considered a serious threat heading into the final round, the 26-year-old from Charlotte, N.C., arrived out of the thick marine-layer fog Sunday just in time to edge 54-hole co-leaders Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk to win the 112th U.S. Open on the Lake Course.
Simpson’s victory marked the ninth consecutive time a new major champion was crowned.
For the second consecutive day, Simpson posted a 2-under-par 68. And, as the clubhouse leader late Sunday, he watched McDowell and Furyk fail to birdie the 18th hole to tie him.
No man finished the championship at par or better. Simpson won at 1-over 281 by a shot over Michael Thompson (67), of Birmingham, Ala., and McDowell (73), the 2010 U.S. Open winner from Northern Ireland.
The 42-year-old Furyk, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., joined the list of hard-luck U.S. Open losers at Olympic. Ben Hogan lost to Jack Fleck in 1955. Eleven years later, it was Billy Casper who roared back to upend Arnold Palmer. And in 1987, Scott Simpson prevented Tom Watson from winning.
Furyk led by himself for 15 holes Sunday, only to see his championship hopes come undone on the 16th tee when he hooked his drive so badly, it left him little hope for making birdie – and he ended up with a crushing bogey instead.
Furyk finished with a 74, tying for fourth at 283.
“I’m sure my disappointment is not as much as his disappointment right now,” McDowell said. “Jim played some quality golf today.”
Different golfers tried putting heat on Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion. Thompson was the first one with two early birdies, but he bogeyed the ninth hole.
South Africa’s Ernie Els, a two-time U.S. Open champion, drove the par-4 seventh hole and made eagle by sinking a 12-foot putt.
But Els backed that up with back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 8 and 9.
And the hopes of England’s Lee Westwood ended when his drive on the fifth hole landed in a tree on the right and never came down. He made a double bogey.
That left Simpson, an admitted “leaderboard watcher” from Wake Forest who was playing in his second U.S. Open.
At one point, he trailed Furyk by six strokes, but he ran off consecutive birdies at the sixth, seventh and eighth holes.
“To be honest, I never really wrapped my mind around winning,” Simpson said. “This place is so demanding, and so all I was really concerned about was keeping the ball in front of me and making pars.”
Simpson said it helped he was playing in front of the leaders.
“I have no experience in major championships, and contention at all,” said the two-time PGA Tour winner. “Given the circumstances, I was happy I wasn’t in the final group.”
But all of a sudden after his birdie at No. 10th – a tap-in 4-footer – he was right next to Furyk, trailing by one shot.
Then came Furyk’s disastrous finishing stretch, starting without a swing. He walked to the 16th tee and saw that the tees were moved up considerably – a shocking revelation.
“I know the USGA (United States Golf Association) gives us a memo saying that they play from multiple tees, but there’s no way to prepare for 100 yards (forward),” Furyk said. “The fairway makes a complete ‘L’ turn. I was unprepared. I didn’t know exactly where to hit the ball off the tee.”
He tried cutting the corner with a 3-wood, and hooked it into a grove of trees. From there, it took him three more shots to reach the green – and he made bogey.
McDowell, who made four front-nine bogeys, made birdie at No. 17 to join Furyk at 2 over heading to the final hole.
Both needed birdie to force a playoff with Simpson. And both hit their tee shots on the short par 4 in the right rough.
Furyk eliminated himself when he sailed his wedge approach into a greenside bunker. McDowell at least reached the back of the green, but his 24-foot birdie putt stayed left the whole way down the slope, giving Simpson the title.
“When Graeme missed on (No.) 18 and I realized I had won, I just kind of shook my head in disbelief,” Simpson said. “I could not believe it actually happened.”
At the Olympic Club, as its 57-year U.S. Open history would attest, anything can happen.
112th U.S. OPEN
The Olympic Club, San Francisco | Final
INSIDE USGA official still loves Chambers Bay Golf Course. B6todd.email@example.com 253-597-8442 blogs.thenewstribune.com/golf @ManyHatsMilles