With a potential one-stroke penalty and the ghosts of 2015 hanging over his head, Dustin Johnston just went out and played golf on Sunday, shooting a closing-round 69 to win the US Open, his first Major.
The victory elevated Johnson to No. 3 in the world, surpassing Rory McIlroy who missed the cut and fell to No. 4. The US now has four of the top six players in the world, with Johnson joining No. 2 Jordan Spieth, No. 5 Bubba Watson, and No. 6 Rickie Fowler.
The penalty became the talk of the tournament, and saw the USGA blasted repeatedly by today’s players on social media and by none other than Jack Nicklaus in the ours after Johnson’s victory.
On No. 5 on Sunday, Johnson thought he saw his ball move after he had ground his club. Both he and playing partner Lee Westwood talked to an official and both men said Johnson did not cause the movement. Seven holes later, USGA managing director Jeff Hall told Johnson he was being subjected to a video replay for a potential rules infraction.
Which meant Johnson spent the next six holes not knowing how much of a lead he had. In different circumstances it might have forced a playoff that no one knew was coming, or even cost Johnson the crown.
As it happened, the penalty was enforced, but it meant nothing. Johnson only made one “real” bogey on the day and shot a final-round 69 to finish three strokes ahead of Jim Furyk, Scott Piercy, and Shane Lory. Lowry bombed out with a final day 76 after leading through 54 holes. Furyk made the only real charge of the day, with a closing round 66.
No other player finished below par.
Nicklaus an 18-time Major winner, told ESPN, “I told (Johnson) what you did with all that crap that they threw at you was pretty good.”
Johnson had 11 Top 10 Major finishes before winning on Sunday, including finishing in the Top 7 of four of the last five – tied for sixth at the 2015 Masters; tied for second at last year’s US Open; tied for seventh at the 2015 PGA Championship; and tied for fourth as this year’s Masters.
Furyk was two strokes behind going to 18, but bogeyed it while Johnson made a birdie. Had the penalty been decided earlier, the lead only would have been one, and it’s anyone’s guess how either man would have played the hole.