Johnson Gains U.S. Open Redemption

Dustin Johnson took time to pose with the Oakmont maintenance staff after claiming the 116th U.S. Open. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)
Dustin Johnson took time to pose with the Oakmont maintenance staff after claiming the 116th U.S. Open. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

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OAKMONT, Pa. – Nobody said winning a major championship is easy. Dustin Johnson can attest to that.

With the scar tissue from last year’s three-putt on the 72nd green at Chambers Bay still healing, and the distraction of a potential Rules infraction early in Sunday’s final round pending, Johnson managed to keep his composure and win the 116th U.S. Open Championship at Oakmont Country Club by three strokes over 54-hole leader Shane Lowry, Jim Furyk and Scott Piercy.

Johnson, No. 6 in the Official World Golf Ranking, carded a final-round 69 – one of seven sub-70 scores posted on Sunday – for a 72-hole total of 4-under 276 to end an 0-for-28 drought in majors. Seven of the nine U.S. Open champions at Oakmont have been first-time major winners, the exceptions being Ben Hogan (1953) and Larry Nelson (1983).

“It feels really great,” said Johnson, who turns 32 on Wednesday. “After last year, to come back this year and perform like this, it definitely shows what kind of golfer I am, and it was awesome.

“To finally get that major win is huge. It’s definitely a huge monkey off my back. I feel a lot lighter.”

Johnson, who joined Tiger Woods (2000) as the only U.S. Open champions to lead the field in driving distance (316.75) and greens in regulation (55 of 72) since those stats started to be tracked in 1980, punctuated his victory by stuffing a 6-iron approach from 191 yards to 5 feet for a closing birdie. He joined Bob Jones (1923, ’26, ’29), Jack Nicklaus (1972), Payne Stewart (1999) and Woods (2008) as U.S. Open champions who were runners-up the previous year.

For a man who has been stung by heartache and disappointment in several previous majors, Johnson showed remarkable focus, especially after a Rules situation cropped up on the fifth green. As he prepared for a short par putt, Johnson’s ball moved a millimeter. He immediately alerted his walking Rules official, Mark Newell, and told him he didn’t cause the ball to move. Newell initially agreed with Johnson, but seven holes later, USGA Rules officials Jeff Hall and Thomas Pagel informed Johnson of a possible infraction of Rule 18-2, one that would be reviewed upon the completion of his round.

All the players on the course were told of the situation, one that eventually cost Johnson a penalty stroke upon video review. The stroke ultimately didn’t cost Johnson the championship.

“I felt like I wasn't going to be penalized, so I just went about my business,” said Johnson of his game plan. “I just focused on the drive on 12 and from there on out, I knew it’s something we'd deal with when we got done.
“I'm glad it didn't matter because that would have been bad. But, you know, it worked out.”

“As a committee, when we reviewed the tape, we said, given the timing of his actions, it was more likely than not that Dustin was the cause of the ball’s movement,” said Pagel, senior director of Rules for the USGA. “There’s doubt there, and we understand not everyone is going to agree with that. But the standard is not 100 percent. It's more likely than not.”

 This was not the first time Johnson was involved in a Rules infraction in the final round of a major. In the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, he grounded his club in what he thought was a waste area on the 72nd hole, but it was actually a bunker. After review, Johnson was penalized two strokes and finished two shots out of a playoff between Bubba Watson and eventual winner Martin Kaymer.

This came on the heels of a final-round 82 in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links after he took a three-shot lead through 54 holes. Last year he shockingly three-putted from 12 feet at Chambers Bay, missing a 3-foot birdie putt that would have forced an 18-hole playoff with Jordan Spieth.

All of that was wiped clean with a near-flawless final round at Oakmont. He registered three birdies against two bogeys – one of which came on that fifth-green penalty – when virtually everyone else in the final few pairings struggled.

Johnson could relate to what happened to Lowry, who had returned to Oakmont early Sunday to complete the suspended third round. A 65 gave the three-time PGA European Tour winner a four-stroke cushion over unheralded PGA Tour rookie Andrew Landry and Johnson. The 29-year-old from Ireland returned to his rented home to watch a hurling match between Tipperary and Limerick before returning to Oakmont to prepare for the biggest round of his life.

Then it all unraveled. Lowry, who only had one three-putt green through 54 holes, had three on Sunday in a round in which he couldn’t sustain any momentum. He went out in 3-over 38 and registered his only birdie on the par-5 12th, finishing with a 6-over 76. Landry, a local and sectional qualifier whose best finish in 11 PGA Tour events was last week’s tie for 41st in the FedEx St. Jude Classic, was two strokes worse.

“Bitterly disappointed, standing here,” said Lowry, who was bidding to become the first golfer from the Republic of Ireland to win this championship. “And, you know, it's not easy to get yourself in a position I got myself in today. It was there for the taking and I didn't take it.”

Said Landry: “Obviously, it's my best finish of the year (T-15). So I'm taking it as a positive and move on to the following weeks and just continue to prepare. I've been in this situation, so I'm going to learn from it.”

Meanwhile, Furyk, who teed off two hours before the final pairing, recovered from a disappointing 74 in Round 3 to shoot 66. It was the second runner-up finish at Oakmont and third overall for the 2003 U.S. Open champion. Piercy, who had missed the cut in three of his previous four U.S. Open starts, carded a 69 to join Lowry and Furyk at 1-under 219.

They were the only four players to finish 72 holes under par on a layout that many felt wouldn’t produce an under-par champion. But with the course taking more than 3 inches of rain earlier in the week, including Thursday’s first round that featured three weather delays, scoring opportunities were available. Oakmont yielded 51 sub-par scores for the week, more than 2007 (eight) and 1994 (33) combined.