SAN FRANCISCO – All around him Sunday, players once in contention were cast aside one by one by the tiresome and tricky course at The Olympic Club.
Down went Tiger Woods. Lee Westwood folded early. Ernie Els faded late. Jim Furyk buckled, and Graeme McDowell couldn’t rekindle his magic.
Webb Simpson though persevered, carded a second straight 2-under 68 and waited.
He sat comfortably in the locker room watching, with wife Dowd by his side, the action unfolding behind him. There was nothing else he could do.
“I just wanted to go someplace quiet with my wife so we could talk,” Simpson. “We watched some videos of our son James to calm our nerves.”
An hour earlier he made par on No. 18 to post a 1-over, 72-hole total that put him in front with Furyk and McDowell, the 56-hole leaders, lurking close behind.
As dusk approached, and the fog continued to settle over the San Francisco course, the two former Open champions didn’t have a rebuttal against an unforgiving course that had been fighting back all week.
And as McDowell’s birdie putt on No. 18 that would’ve forced a Monday playoff round drifted left past the cup, Simpson’s come-from-behind trip was complete, and the 112th U.S. Open championship his.
“This place is so demanding – the course is so hard. You don’t know if you’re going to make three of four bogeys in a row. So I just tried to keep the ball in front of me,” Simpson added. “Every day my game got a little better.”
Simpson, who had two previous PGA Tour victories, both in 2011, hit the weekend at 5-over. A 68 on Tuesday left him four strokes off the lead. Four birdies in five holes (Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 10) on Sunday brought the North Carolina native to 1-over. He played the final eight holes in typical U.S. Open form – at even par and under control.
“I think it’s going to take some time (to sink in),” he said.
Furyk fought off a field full of hopefuls as long as he could but withered away on the back nine.
At the most inopportune time, a massive hook left Furyk with a punch-out shot back into the fairway on No. 16. He went on to bogey the hole, just as Simpson made his par ahead at No. 18 to take the lead into the clubhouse.
“I don’t know how to put that one into words, but I had my opportunities and my chances, and it was right there,” a disappointed Furyk said. “It was, on that back nine, it was my tournament to win, and I felt like if I went out there and shot even par, 1 under, I would have distanced myself from the field, and I wasn’t able to do so.”
Furyk (70,69,70,74) also made bogey on No. 18 to finish in a tie for fourth with Padraig Harrington, David Toms, John Peterson and Jason Dufner at 4-over.
McDowell rallied down the stretch after an inconsistent front nine. Three birdies canceled out three bogeys on the back, but the fan-favorite, who won in 2010 at Pebble Beach, didn’t have enough to make it two Open wins in three years.
“There’s a mixture of emotions inside me right now. Obviously, disappointment, deflation, pride, but mostly just frustration, just because I hit three fairways today,” McDowell said. “That’s the U.S. Open. You’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to hit it in some fairways. And that was the key today really for me.”
McDowell (69, 72, 68, 73) closed in a tie for second with Michael Thompson (66, 75, 74, 67) the leader after Day 1 – which seemed like so long ago.
After playing the first six holes 6-over-par, Woods (69, 70, 75, 73) salvaged a round of 73, but never factored into the chase. He finished tied for 21st and still in search of his first Major victory since 2008.