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Sunday, June 20, 2010

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Irish Eyes Smiling On McDowell

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By David Shefter, USGA

Pebble Beach, Calif. - In case you missed it, an earthquake rattled Pebble Beach Golf Links on Sunday.

The spectators didn't feel it. Neither did USGA officials or anyone in the surrounding Monterey Peninsula.

But those golfers with late final-round starting times at the 110th U.S. Open were being shaken and stirred like a cocktail.

In the case of 54-hole leader Dustin Johnson, the shocks were violent.

Yet when everything calmed down and the sun began to set over the Pacific Ocean, Graeme McDowell, an affable 30-year-old from Northern Ireland, had maintained his footing just enough to prevent a perilous tumble into Stillwater Cove.

McDowell carded a 3-over-par 74 on the 7,040-yard layout to earn a one-stroke victory over Frenchman Gregory Havret, thus ending a 40-year European drought in this championship. England's Tony Jacklin was the last Euro to claim the title, in 1970 at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. McDowell, a member of the victorious 2001 Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup Team, also is the first golfer from Northern Ireland to win a USGA championship.

"I just can't believe I'm standing here with this thing [the U.S. Open trophy] right now," said McDowell, who claimed his fifth European Tour title two weeks ago at the Celtic Manor Wales Open by shooting 64-63 on the weekend. "It's an absolute dream come true. I've dreamed of this all my life, two putts to win the U.S. Open."

But Sunday's story was also about who didn't win. Johnson, seemingly in control of his game and emotions going into the final round, shot an 82, his worst round as a professional by two strokes (he had an 80 at the 2008 Players). It was also the highest final-round score by a 54-hole leader since Fred McLeod's 83 in 1911. Gil Morgan (1992 at Pebble Beach) and Retief Goosen (2005 at Pinehurst No. 2) each had 81s after holding 54-hole leads.

Johnson wasn't alone. Three-time champion and world No. 1 Tiger Woods, coming off a brilliant 66 on Saturday, carded a 75 and finished three strokes back at 3-over 287, joining the world's No. 2 player and reigning Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who matched his Saturday effort of 73.

Woods is now 0-for-43 in majors when trailing going into the final round. He is 14-for-15 when leading entering the last round.

Ernie Els of South Africa, bidding join a select group of players with three or more U.S. Open titles, also had a 73 and finished third at 286.

Havret, paired with Woods and ranked 391st in the world, was the only golfer besides McDowell who seemed to be playing with any consistency. But he, too, faltered with a bogey on the 71st hole before missing a 9-foot birdie putt at 18 that could have forced an 18-hole playoff on Monday.

Nevertheless, Havret, a sectional qualifier who owns three European Tour victories including a playoff win over Mickelson at the 2007 Barclays Scottish Open, left a strong impression in his U.S. Open debut. He even outshined his country's World Cup soccer performance in South Africa.

"My feeling right now is it's probably the best surprise for me," said Havret. "So I'm very happy. But it's also the biggest disappointment.

"I felt good all day long. I just kept focusing on my game, my good points of the week."

McDowell, however, managed his game well enough to avoid all the carnage going on around him. Entering the round three shots behind Johnson, he watched the 25-year-old South Carolinian make a triple-bogey 7 at the par-4 second, then return to the tee at the par-4 third after spectators and officials failed to locate his ball in a hazard within the allotted five minutes. Because nobody actually saw his drive enter the hazard, the ball was deemed lost and Johnson went back to the tee. His double-bogey 6 dropped him out of the lead for good, and the two mishaps effectively ended his day.

Given new life, McDowell, unlike the other Sunday pursuers, steadied his game. He birdied the par-3 fifth to reach four under par for the championship. And even though he registered four bogeys coming in - three on the second nine - he didn't make any critical mistakes.

"This golf course is extremely difficult, and it's very tough to make birdies," said McDowell. "Dustin got off to a really bad start. After the way he played yesterday, I thought if the same guy turned up today, he was going to be really tough to beat.

"I'm just so thrilled to get over the [finish] line. It's so difficult to win a golf tournament let alone a major championship. I really just tried to stay calm on the back nine and I really did. I did a great job of it."

The former University of Alabama-Birmingham All-American wisely chose to lay up with his second shot from a good lie in the right rough to ensure a stress-free 99-yard approach to the green. Two putts later, from 20 feet - the last from 18 inches - gave McDowell the title.

It was a nice Father's Day gift for his dad, who ran across the putting surface to give Graeme a congratulatory hug. His mom, who happened to be in Spain, was likely watching live television coverage.

Back home in Northern Ireland it was roughly 2:30 a.m. Monday morning, and the party likely was just beginning.

"I think there will be a few pints of Guinness maybe going down right about now," said McDowell. "I think that they might extend drinking hours a little bit tonight hopefully."

And it was probably rocking enough to be felt all the way in California.

David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.


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