Jason Day was best of the rest as no one approached Rory McIlroy at U.S. Open
BETHESDA, Md. — Ladies and gentlemen, meet your champion golfer of the year ... for the B Flight. Congratulations, Jason Day!
Fine, so there was no actual announcement like that Sunday at Congressional Country Club, no ceremony and no trophy. But Day, the impressive young Aussie, finished on top in the other United States Open. That would be the division that didn't include Rory McIlroy, who was clearly in a class by himself with a record score of 16 under par.
The B Flight title came down to the 72nd hole, full of drama. Y.E. Yang, a former PGA champion, came to the final hole at seven under par, one shot behind Day, who had already finished. Yang pull-hooked his drive on the long 18th but got a break when it caromed off a tree back into the fairway. Still, he was way, way back. He did well to give himself a par putt, but it trickled down a slope and somehow stopped an inch short of the cup.
That bogey handed the B-Flight title to Day.
"I thought the winning score would be five under to eight under this week," Yang said later. "I tried to target my own game towards that number. I achieved that. Unfortunately, some guy shot the hell out of it for the whole week.
"At the same time, I've missed the cut in my last two U.S. Opens. This is my third Open. So coming in third, there are a lot more positives than there are negatives."
Day was still shaking his head about McIlroy's performance. Day's resume is looking better by the month. He was second at the Masters in April. Now he's got a second at the Open. If some observers are proclaiming Rory as the next Tiger Woods, you could do worse than to proclaim Day as the next Rory. Day closed with a solid 68 that featured no bogeys. He made a sweet par on the 18th. After missing the green left, he faced a long bunker shot to a pin tucked just over a ridge, with water looming behind the green. It wasn't a problem as he splashed a shot that landed softly six feet away. He holed the par putt.
"Obviously, coming to a U.S. Open course that I've never played before, I was thinking four under as going to win it," Day said. "And what was it, 16 under? That's phenomenal golf. I played really, really solid golf all weekend, which I wanted to do. I'm very, very happy to finish second."
The B Flight competition had a lot of contenders, some of them unexpected. Steve Stricker, who hadn't been on the leaderboard all week, birdied the par-3 10th hole to get to five under par for the tournament and into contention. He struggled on his way in, however, doubling the 12th and 18th holes and plummeting into a tie for 19th.
"I wasn't as sharp as I was a couple of weeks ago," Stricker said, "but I gave it a good run today. Then I just kind of gave it all back."
Lee Westwood of England looked as if he might make an early run when he birdied the opening hole to get to six under par, tied with Yang. Westwood made only two more birdies the rest of the day and settled for a one-under-par 70 and a tie for third.
Two big surprises were the players who ended up as the low Americans in the field — Robert Garrigus and Kevin Chappell. Garrigus, who has one win on the PGA Tour, is still best-known for blowing a three-shot lead on the final hole in Memphis. He's also known for using a teeny-weeny putter. He made a late charge with a final-nine 31, including a par-saving putt on the 18th that had him emphatically punching the air in delight. He shot 39 on the front nine.
"The front nine was a disaster," said Garrigus, who was gushing about that last putt. "That putt gave me goosebumps for sure. Besides it being Father's Day, making that putt gets me into Augusta; that's probably one of the coolest things I'll ever get to say. I'm playing at Augusta next year."
Chappell is a former NCAA champion from UCLA who closed with a 66. "Being low American, that's great," Chappell said. "I don't think American golf is where everyone expects it to be, but I think this shows that someone like myself can play out here, and it's definitely going in the right direction soon."
Sweden's Peter Hanson also made a run at Yang and Day. He was six under par for his round after he eagled No. 16, but he fell back to a tie for seventh with a bogey-bogey finish.
Even two major champions made a bit of a move. Reigning Masters champ Charl Schwartzel posted a 66 to finish tied for ninth with reigning British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, who closed with a 67.
"I played pretty spectacularly today," Schwartzel said. "I nearly holed two iron shots. I made five birdies, no bogeys on a final day of the U.S. Open. I think I'm pretty happy with that."
It wasn't quite good enough to win the Open's B Flight title, which shouldn't bother a guy who travels with the green jacket so he can look at it every day. It certainly wasn't enough to win the U.S. Open itself. Mr. McIlroy was in a league of his own.