2015 U.S. Open Final: Whiplash and three-putts
By Torleif Sorenson on 6/21/15
The 115th United States Open Championship at Chambers Bay Golf Course featured the most shocking and whiplash-inducing finish to any major championship in memory. Years — decades from now, we will still be talking about this entire championship, in large part because of how the last hour of it played out.
The dried out course and the unforgiving, poa annua-infested putting surfaces will be talked about in the same way people still remember the 1974 Open (the notorious "Massacre at Winged Foot") and the burned-out greens at the 2001 Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa. Before the start of play on Sunday afternoon, USGA executive director Mike Davis ordered the greens to be syringed with water, resulting in mostly hard sand-packed greens pockmarked with the out-of-control poa.
Like some historic military conflicts, this U.S. Open ended not with a bang, but with a whimper — and complete, utter shock.
When play began on Sunday afternoon, four players were tied for the lead at -4: Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Branden Grace, and Jordan Spieth. Johnson was magnificent off the tee and from the fairways, and held the lead for a good portion of the afternoon, with Spieth and Grace close behind.
Louis OosthuizenThe 2010 Open Championship winner nearly threatened to steal the show. He began Sunday tied for fifth at -1, but spun back to +2 (eight shots back) with three consecutive bogeys at 2, 3, and 4. But on the closing nine, he sparked to life.
He drove the 12th green to four feet, but the green ruined his straightforward eagle putt. Nevertheless, his birdie got him back to +1. On the 13th, Oosthuizen hit an approach some 20 feet beyond the hole, and he sank the birdie to get back to level par. On the 14th, Oosthuizen holed a magnificent approach to surge to get back into red figures. At the 15th green, the South African somehow defied the troublesome greens to sink another birdie from 25 feet to get to -2 and the top page of the leaderboard. At 16, his a two-putt birdie boosted him to -3.
That was five birdies in a row from 12 to 16. Oosthuizen was tied for third, alongside Johnson (further back on the course) and Adam Scott (already in the clubhouse after shooting a 64). Eventually Oosthuizen got himself into the clubhouse at -4 with a final birdie at the 18th, finishing in a tie for second place. He shot an astounding 29 — a U.S. Open closing nine record.
Jason DayBattling the aftereffects of a sudden attack of benign positional vertigo late Friday afternoon, Day gamely battled through vicious course conditions to turn in one-over-par 36, and split the fairway at the 10th. But from 170 yards, his approach disappeared. He literally did not see the ball land — nor did Fox photographers or viewers. Bogey. At 13, Day attempted to pitch up a steep slope to the green, but the ball cruelly faltered near the crest of the hill and wobbled back down into the dried-out ditch. For his par-saver, Day putted up the ridge and just onto one of only two decent putting surfaces this week. Day's 11-footer for bogey trickled left, and he was finally out of the running at level par.
We learned several things about Jason Day this week: He is truly a likable man, an outstanding golfer, and mentally plenty tough. If he and his doctors can find a solution to his vertigo issues, we fully expect him to win a major someday soon. He was awfully close to having done it this week.
Three for the winJohnson, Spieth, and Grace battled back and forth down the homestretch. At the par-3 9th, both Spieth and Grace found the green, but Grace’s ball crept "inside the leather" and the resulting birdie putt boosted the South African to -4, tied with Spieth and just one behind Johnson.
Back at the 593-yard 8th, D.J. sent his tee-shot left into the fescue — a rare missed fairway for him. But he found the green with his iron approach, two-putted for birdie, and advanced to -6, three shots ahead of Day.
At the par-3 9th, Johnson's tee-shot came to rest only 11 feet from the hole, but his right-to-left putt bobbled and wobbled all over the insidious poa annua to about three inches. Heading for the turn, he still remained ahead of Day at -6.
In the meantime, Rory McIlroy finished a Sunday 66 and ended the tournament the way he started – at level par. Adam Scott concluded his astounding 64, which boosted him into red figures at -3.
At the 541-yard 11th, Spieth hit the green with a 211-yard 6-iron that settled down, surprisingly, without any of the usual Chambers Bay drama. Behind at the 10th, Johnson had 11 feet to save par and keep his scorecard clean, but his putt hopped off-line and burned the left edge, resulting in his first bogey of the day.
At the par-3 15th, Spieth’s tee shot came to a stop just short of the rough, but behind a tall ridge. He did well to coax his right-to-lefter over the relatively steep ridge separating him from the hole, 43 inches away, and then saved par. Grace had a 24-footer for birdie, but the left-to-righter came up two feet short and he exited 15 with another par to stay at -5.
Then came several shocking, downright whiplash-inducing moments that will live long in United States Open Championship history.
RailroadedAt 16, disaster struck for Grace when he sliced his tee shot off the hole, over the bunker complex and nearby fence, off the public bicycle path, and under the railroad boundary fence — out of bounds. Seeing opportunity, his playing partner Spieth responded by hitting a draw to what should have been safety on the left side of the fairway. But with mostly dead fescue and baked sand left on the fairways of Chambers Bay, the ball rolled so far and so hot that it filtered down almost to the bunker on the right side of the fairway. Amazingly, it plugged into one of the precious few remaining clumps of green grass among the dry fescue. Somehow, Spieth saved par from there.
Stunned, Grace marked another golf ball and slashed it to the left side of the fairway, but it also rolled back down the slope, off to the right, and toward disaster. Like Spieth's ball, Grace's shot somehow managed to stay out of the right-side bunkers. Lying four and putting from what seemed like miles away, Grace left his par-saver at least 20 feet short. With two more putts for double-bogey, Grace tumbled down to -3.
Spieth's own approach checked up well short of the green, but his long left-to-right putt BARELY crept into the outside right edge of the cup for a birdie. Spieth surged to -6 and a three-shot lead, with just two holes to play.
Back at the 16th tee, Johnson took a driving iron for an intelligent, high-percentage tee-shot — but was cheated out of a reasonable reward when his ball rolled completely through the fairway, through the fescue lining, and into the bunker.
A wicked turnAt 17, Spieth sliced his tee-shot — “easily his worst swing of the day,” according to Brad Faxon on Fox. The ball plonked into the deep fescue short and right of the green.
Grace responded with a lovely 6-iron draw into the left bank of the green, but for a reason known only to Almighty God Himself, the ball failed to release down to the hole. From over 50 feet away, Grace's birdie putt actually stopped at the cup and rolled back three inches. Par.
For some reason, Spieth played rather quickly (too quickly to some viewers); his second reached the green, but the ball finished below the ridge fronting the flagstick. His 30-foot uphill putt bounced and bounded to about four feet short of the hole. With the
Trailing at -3 and badly needing a birdie to fall at the 16th green, Johnson's putt toddled through the poa annua to just short of the hole. He remained one shot back, tied with Grace, whose tee-shot at 18 sailed straight into the left-side bunker.
Seconds later, Spieth stepped up to the 18th tee and ripped a laser down the left side of the fairway, avoiding the bunker complex only by about eight feet.
At the 17th tee, breathing down Spieth's proverbial neck and smelling blood, Johnson played a magnificent 6-iron off the left shoulder of the green. The ball filtered to less than three feet in front of the flagstick. Seconds later, in the fairway at 18 with a fairway metal in his hands, Spieth responded by popping his approach off the back bank of the green, which then curled counter-clockwise backward to about 11 feet below the flagstick.
On the 17th green, Johnson calmly struck. His birdie vaulted him back into a tie for the lead at -4, while Spieth was walking up to the 18th green awash in applause. Oosthuizen was up in the scorers trailer, signing for his dazzling 67.
PipelineThe pressure was intense and palpable when Johnson arrived at the 18th tee. D.J. delivered, lashing a straight, massive tee-shot into the neck of the fairway, well clear of the bunkers to the left. The galleries roared, sensing paydirt.
Up ahead, Spieth then lined up his own eagle attempt 15 feet, 4 inches below the hole — and it crawled to just three inches left, hole-high. The door was open for Johnson to pounce onto the 18th green in two. (Grace saved par and finished T-4.)
With a 5-iron in his big hands, Johnson absolutely ripped his second shot.
"Beauty," said his caddie.
It was. The ball landed softly and rolled to the top tier of the putting surface, stopping above and left of the flag. Over 6,000 spectators ringing the 18th green erupted with cheers, sensing that, for the first time ever, an eagle putt could win a U.S. Open Championship. The 12-foot, four-inch eagle putt awaited Johnson when he marched into the ampitheatre built for the occasion.
Since the poa annua was the only thing left alive on the 18th green, it was not a complete surprise that Johnson's eagle putt slid left of the hole. All that was left for the tall South Carolina native was to stroke home the four-foot birdie putt, sending Spieth and himself into a highly-anticipated 18-hole Monday playoff:
The putt started solidly straight, but angled to the left, burned the left edge of the hole, and to a heart-stopping halt six inches above.
Johnson holed for a three-putt par, then walked away in palpable shock. Some of the spectators booed. The remainder were, like the rest of us viewers, in utter shock. Few cheered.
AftermathAt 7:19 p.m. PDT, a stunned Jordan Spieth, standing in the scorer's trailer, found out he had won the 115th United States Open Championship.
Two minutes later, he was in the Fox Sports interview booth with Holly Sonders and looking anything but comfortable:
And here we are. Jordan Spieth is halfway to the modern-day Grand Slam.
He survived 16 ridiculous, poa annua-infested putting surfaces (only the 7th and 13th were reasonably playable). He negotiated burned out fairways that turned away perfectly good tee-shots from the rest of the field.
And he became the youngest U.S. Open champion since the legendary Bobby Jones (then aged 21) in 1923 at Inwood CC in New York.
Dustin Johnson was so devastated that he didn't even attend the trophy presentation ceremony and bypassed the press conference at the media tent. He answered some questions from local media elsewhere, then quietly left the course.
We can understand if he does not want to return there for at least another decade. At the end, his considerable skill was not a factor in the result of this championship.
After awhile, Holly Sonders took another turn at the new champion:
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Image via USGA
[ comments ]
First of all contgratulations to Mr Spieth. A far more deserving golfer of the number one spot than the current one.
In my view this competion unlike the PGA tours is ment to find out who is the best golfer in the USA and arguably the world.
You don't find this out by pristine fairways, carpet like greens, playing the same shots day after day round after round, practiced practiced and just to make certain practiced again.
I thought it was an excellent test of a golfers ability to adapt and adjust and with a bit of luck both good and bad.
One of our commenteters who has played the course said it was one one the worst designed green's he's ever played on. Well! it is what it is and its the same for everyone. A real risk reward course where hazards really were hazards for a change.
More like it please.
There was too much "putt putt" element to the greens. Roll the ball well past, then let it roll back and hope for the best. One shot I saw rolled past, rolled back and then rolled forward.
That course wasn't designed to have greens stimping at 12. You can't cut fescue that short with out killing it. It is one of the reasons the British open typically has some of the slower greens pro's play on each year (along with windy conditions).
Mike Davis ruined a great golf course. I almost dont care that the pros have to play on a goat pasture (although not fun to watch) but think of the people over the next 6-8 months who paid a good amount of money to play there. They all get to play on this course that Mike Davis destroyed. He should be fired.
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