Golf

Dustin Johnson wins first major at Oakmont

Dustin Johnson, right, hugs his caddie and younger brother Austin after making a birdie on the 18th hole during the final round of the U.S. Open golf championship at Oakmont Country Club on Sunday, June 19, 2016, in Oakmont, Pa. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Dustin Johnson, right, hugs his caddie and younger brother Austin after making a birdie on the 18th hole during the final round of the U.S. Open golf championship at Oakmont Country Club on Sunday, June 19, 2016, in Oakmont, Pa. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) AP

How much of a lead did Dustin Johnson have?

As Johnson approached the 18th green, with the weight of finally winning a major on his shoulders, no one knew.

Fans had no idea. The media center was in the dark. Johnson himself didn’t have a clue.

But the stoic 31-year-old made it not matter.

Johnson left no doubt after controversy over a potential rules infraction drew the golf world’s attention, winning his first-ever major championship by three strokes at the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club on Sunday evening.

“Feels good. Feels really good. Feels well-deserved,” Johnson said of finally capturing a major. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities that I didn’t quite get it done. So this one’s definitely really sweet.”

After collapses at the 2015 U.S. Open and 2010 PGA Championship, Johnson, the No. 6 player in the world entering the week, was labeled by many as lacking resolve. With Johnson’s three-putt on the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay last year still on the minds of many, he was looking to redeem himself — and prove that he had what it took.

There was no questioning that on Sunday.

Johnson, coming into the final round trailing Shane Lowry by four strokes, started off his round well with a birdie at the second hole and crucial par save at the fifth.

Or at least what looked like a par save.

Before connecting on the green, Johnson slid the putter behind his stagnant ball with the par attempt a few feet away.

Johnson pulled his club away, and the ball moved ever so slightly.

The scoreboard leader was not assessed a penalty at the time, but was told on the 12th tee box that the USGA might knock him one stroke, and that the decision would be made after the round.

As if Johnson exorcising a year’s worth of psychological demons wasn’t enough drama.

The USGA made the ruling after Johnson exited the 18th green, deeming that he should be penalized one stroke.

After finding out about the potential penalty on the 12th hole — and having to play the rest of his round with that in the back of his head — Johnson said he tried to focus on what was ahead of him.

“I just kept thinking, ‘It’s just me and the course,’” the South Carolina native said. “I’m playing against the course. I can’t control what anyone else does.”

And in the battle of Johnson vs. Oakmont, the golfer had the edge.

Following a bogey at the 14th, he was flawless.

Johnson saved par at 15, 16 and 17 before owning the 18th hole. He smoked a 303-yard drive right down the middle, stuck a 192-yard approach just five feet away from the pin, and swept home a birdie.

“I hit two great shots on 18. It might be one of the best shots I ever hit,” Johnson admitted. “So that was very nice to have a short putt like that to get in the house.”

While Johnson commanded the praise of Oakmont’s patrons, those behind him faltered at the end.

Lowry, who entered Sunday afternoon at 7-under par, was 6 over for his final round. Hitting only 9 of 18 greens in regulation, the 29-year-old Irishman had seven bogeys to just one birdie.

He finished tied for second at 1-under par.

“Bitterly disappointed standing here,” 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.”

Lowry was joined in a tie for runner-up with Jim Furyk and Scott Piercy. The latter was 1-under on the day, while the former had the best final round of anyone in the field at 4-under.

Furyk, a Pennsylvania native, said he heard endless cheering all day.

“I had a ton of support from my birthplace, West Chester. I heard Lancaster, where I grew up. I heard Manheim Township, where I went to high school. I heard all kinds of stuff from western PA,” Furyk said. “I had a lot of places claiming me. It was a lot of fun.”

But no one had as much fun as Johnson.

As the sun set on Oakmont, Johnson, standing next to four-time U.S. Open champion Jack Nicklaus, held his trophy proudly on the 18th green, receiving applause from the 76-year-old legend and gallery alike.

He deserved it, too.

Whether it was the difficulty of the course, mental struggle with the penalty stroke debacle, or pressure of silencing his critics, Johnson further established himself as one of the world’s best golfers.

And to celebrate next to his fiancee and son, on Father’s Day, couldn’t be topped.

“It means the world,” Johnson said. “Couldn’t have came at a better time.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9

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