Open leaves players bruised, battered

6/21/2010 - Golf

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- I love the U.S. Open because, to steal a line from "Sabrina," it's the world's only living heart donor.

It has no feelings. It's as cold as Fairbanks in February. It wants to waterboard you into submission, reduce you to a Stillwater Cove worth of tears.

That's what happened Sunday at Pebble Beach. The final round of the U.S. Open became an 83-player gum scraping. Everybody in the field got kneecapped except Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, the only guy not to finish over par.

But even McDowell, who ended the week exactly at even-par 284, looked as if he had aged in dog years. Carefree and glib the Monday before, relieved and exhausted on Sunday.

"I just can't believe how difficult this golf course was," McDowell said.

His first pro win in the States is a major. He gets a trophy, a $1.35 million check and a place in history. McDowell becomes the first European to win the U.S. Open in 40 years. Somewhere, Tony Jacklin is raising a champagne glass in his honor.
Meanwhile, almost everyone else who began the day in the lead or in contention threw up on his own golf shoes. There was no red on the final leaderboard, but there was blood on the scorecards.

Your 54-hole leader, Dustin Johnson, stepped to the No. 1 tee box with a 3-stroke advantage over McDowell, 5 over Tiger Woods, 6 over Ernie Els and Gregory Havret, and 7 over Phil Mickelson. If his game didn't fall into the Pacific, Johnson would win the U.S. Open and leave Pebble with his third win here in two years.

It fell into the Pacific. Actually, it took a flying leap from the cliffs near the eighth hole and exploded into flames like a car with a full tank of gas. The explosion could be seen on national television, where one announcer referred to Johnson as "Dustin Hoffman."

Johnson shot 66 on Saturday, then played like Hoffman on Sunday, shooting an 82 -- 82! -- the third-highest score of the day. Somewhere Dr. Gil Morgan is raising a champagne glass in his honor. Morgan shot a final-round 81 as the 54-hole U.S. Open leader here in 1992.

"I never got rattled," Johnson said. "I felt like I held it together pretty good. I still felt like I hit a lot of good shots that maybe were a foot too far or a foot short. … Today I was just a little bit off."

Huh? Johnson tripled the second hole, doubled No. 3, bogeyed the fourth and finished with a front-nine 42. He played like vuvuzelas were blaring during his backswings. But everyone else was playing so ridiculously average or crummy that Johnson still had a chance at the turn.

Then came Johnson's back-nine 40, and that was that. Give him this much: He didn't sound like a guy who was going to have sleep issues Sunday night.

"Nah, I'm done with it now," said Johnson, who finished T-8 and barely earned an automatic invitation for the 2011 U.S. Open. "I'm going to get some food and get on my airplane and get home."

Els wasn't done with it. Had he shot an even-par 71, he would have been in a Monday playoff and perhaps won a third U.S. Open. He shot 73 (he gave away five shots this week on the par-3 No. 17) and departed the premises without talking to reporters. The Big Easy could have steamed a basket full of oysters.

"Gutted," is how his manager, Chubby Chandler, described Els after the round.

There was a lot of that going around. U.S. Open pressure gave these guys the bends.

Mickelson shot 73 and was talking to himself by the end of the round. He did Phil things, such as hitting an iron shot off of television cables on No. 15, or trying to parachute a second shot close on the par-4 No. 16.

"I took a chance, Bones," Mickelson said to his caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay. "It didn't pay off."

But at least he doesn't have to live with the agony of a sixth second-place U.S. Open finish. He T-4'd with his buddy Woods.

"Many guys had a chance," Mickelson said. "And it made for kind of an exciting U.S. Open, I thought."

Exciting or numbing? The U.S. Open isn't about roars, it's about groans. Mickelson hit eight of 14 fairways, six of 18 greens. Woods hit eight fairways and nine greens and had six bogeys on his way to a 75. Had they played best ball, they would have shot no better than 69 and still finished out of first.

"I feel like I put some pieces together this week," Woods said. "It's a process. It's a long process, but I've put some of it together, and I hit some shots this week that I haven't hit in a long time."

This is true. He hit some gorgeous shots, but still only had one round under par. His game continues to evolve, and I wouldn't bet against him at St. Andrews for the British Open. But this is June, not July.

Who would have thought that McDowell and Frenchman Havret would finish ahead of Els, Mickelson and Woods (a combined 21 major victories)? OK, maybe McDowell, but certainly not Havret, ranked 391st in the world.

But this is what the U.S. Open does. It and tag-team partner Pebble Beach took the field into a back alley and stole everyone's man purses. McDowell survived as much as he won.

"It's an absolute dream come true," a beaming McDowell said.

Easy for him to say.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.