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Dustin Johnson wins the U.S. Open for his first major championship

2016 U.S. Open
Dustin Johnson hoists the U.S. Open winner’s trophy alongside Jack Nicklaus on Sunday evening at Oakmont Country Club.
(Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images)

It will likely go down as the only time in U.S. Open history that a crowd lustily produced boos during the trophy presentation ceremony.

That was the strange electricity at Oakmont Country Club late on Sunday evening, one that you’d usually feel only in a massive stadium, with spectators edgy with elation and anger. On this day, there were thousands on Team D.J.

They were thrilled that Dustin Johnson had finally overcome his major championship woes with a stirring victory, while angry that he had to overcome the knowledge that a one-stroke penalty might greet him at the end of the round.

“Let ’em play,” someone yelled.

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“Take back the penalty,” someone else screamed.

The U.S. Golf Assn. officials wearing blue blazers might as well have been dressed in black-and-white stripes.

After the round, Johnson was penalized for unintentionally causing his golf ball to move on the fifth green. He made that moot by still shooting a one-under-par 69 that he capped with a birdie on the 18th hole.

The 31-year-old captured his first major with a four-under total on a course made somewhat softer, but no less daunting, by three inches of rain during the week.

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“Obviously, winning any tournament, there’s a lot of satisfaction, but to get it done in a major, especially [because] I’ve been close so many times, it’s an unbelievable feeling,” Johnson said.

He was asked whether he was bothered by receiving the penalty.

“Seeing as how it didn’t affect the outcome, no,” he said. “I still didn’t want the penalty. I didn’t think that I did anything to cause the ball to move. 

“But at the end of the day it didn’t affect what happened, so it doesn’t bother me at all.”

Whatever the margin, Johnson proved to be the best player for the week.

Only four players finished under par, with Jim Furyk (66), Scott Piercy (69) and Shane Lowry (76) tying for second. Furyk was again runner-up at Oakmont after finishing behind Angel Cabrera in 2007.

Lowry looked the most downtrodden of the trio in the aftermath because the Open was his to lose when play began in the afternoon. The Irishman had a four-stroke lead forged when he finished his third round Sunday morning with two birdies in three holes to shoot 65 to get to seven under.

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Still in the thick of the tournament on the back nine of the fourth round, Lowry faltered with bogeys at Nos. 14-16.

“Bitterly disappointed,” Lowry said. “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.”

Johnson knew that feeling.

If Lowry had somehow held on and tied Johnson, the USGA faced a storm. It was looking as if Johnson might have his heart broken again after losing the 2010 PGA Championship because of a penalty and squandering the U.S. Open last year by three-putting the 72nd hole.

Word circulated on the course that Johnson faced the penalty. He had put his putter beside his ball to practice his putt, and when he moved to address the ball, it slightly oscillated. Johnson called over a rules official.

The official asked whether Johnson had caused the ball to move. Johnson said he didn’t believe he did. The rules official accepted that and told him to play on.

It was not until the 12th tee that Johnson was informed that there would need to be a video review at the end of his round to determine if a penalty occurred.

Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, standing at the back of the 18th green after the round, said it was the “obligation” of the USGA to inform Johnson and the other players.

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“We have to protect the other 155 players in the field,” Davis said.

“If we don’t tell him,” Davis said of Johnson, “we’d be accused of holding something back from him.”

Davis said the video showed that the ball moved as soon as Johnson picked up his putter from beside it.

Among those criticizing the USGA for the way it handled it was 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus, who said after congratulating Johnson, “I told him what you did with all that crap thrown at you was pretty good.” 

Added Nicklaus: “The rules official asked him if the ball moved. He said no. Those greens are so fast anyway, the ball could have moved on its own. That should be the end of it. This is a game of honor.”

Nicklaus, as the honorary chairman of the tournament, handed Johnson the Jack Nicklaus winners’ medal.

Johnson couldn’t take full advantage on the early par-fours despite having a wedge in his hand. He birdied the second and when he made an eight-foot birdie at the ninth, he was tied with Lowry.

Johnson got a favorable ruling on the next hole, the par-four 10th, when he was allowed to take a drop out of the rough and onto the first cut because he said a TV tower was in his way. He ended up carving his ball over the tower anyway and made par.

“I knew I was swinging well, and I just kept thinking, ‘It’s me and the course,’ ” Johnson said. “I’m playing against the course. I can’t control what anyone else does.”

 


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