PGA Tour Confidential: McDowell wins U.S. Open as Tiger, Phil come up short

PGA Tour Confidential: McDowell wins U.S. Open as Tiger, Phil come up short

Graeme McDowell closed with a 3-over 74 to become the first European in 40 years to capture the U.S. Open.
Kohjiro Kinno/SI

Every week of the 2010 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.


John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Tiger Woods . . . Graeme McDowell? Okay, we’re all a little surprised that the older and less-glamorous pro from Northern Ireland has added his name to the illustrious list of U.S. Open winners at the Pebble Beach Golf Links. But McDowell just kept plugging away today while future Hall of Famers flamed out all around him. But I wonder: Will we remember a single shot that McDowell hit this week. Or will this be an Open remembered for the misadventures of Tiger, Phil and Ernie?

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Doubt we’ll remember a shot. This Open might be remembered as the last shot at a major for Els and Love, and for Dustin Johnson’s brutal 82.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: I remember McDowell holing a lot of putts, but not much else. Seemed like nobody wanted to win.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I had a feeling this Open was going to be won by someone we weren’t expecting. Tiger just isn’t playing well enough to put two good rounds together, much less four, and Phil is hard to bet on outside Augusta. Seems like Ernie took it the hardest of all the big names. He just blew through the flash area, too peeved for post-round quotes.

David Dusek, deputy editor, There really wasn’t a signature shot that I recall, but there was a lot of solid putting and grinding pars. In other words, U.S. Open golf.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I’ll remember Tiger and Phil’s flameouts, but also McDowell’s marvelous comeback on Saturday’s back nine. He fought back to shoot 71 after a bad start, and that gave him some good mojo going into Sunday’s final round.

Morfit: I will not remember a single shot he hit, no. McDowell fits the mold of the plodder who often wins these things, and there was so much graphic calamity going on around him all day. This U.S. Open will be remembered for the hundreds of ways it was lost.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Fellow typists, Graeme McDowell is the 2010 U.S. Open Champion. Give the man his due! It can’t be a great championship unless a favorite wins? We have this same conversation after every major not won by one of our hall of famers.

Dusek: It’s a shame, but I have a feeling that Graeme’s win is going to be looked upon like Geoff Ogilvy’s U.S. Open win in 2006 at Winged Foot. He was the last man standing while the big names who were supposed to win imploded.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Nah. McDowell was in the driver’s seat for most of the day. All those big names were chasing him and couldn’t get it done. Big difference.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: The guy made two birdies in his last 34 holes and none after the fifth hole on Sunday. It was a survival contest.

Morfit: I’ll remember Dustin Johnson’s epic meltdown. It’s not too often you see a pro come unraveled like that, even at a major. It was shocking, like Van de Velde but in slow-motion over several holes.

Evans: I think this Open will be remembered for the way this little course with the small greens beat the hell out of the best players in the world. Tiger, Phil and Ernie didn’t deserve to win. Let’s not put this headline on the tournament — THE LAST MAN STANDING — because Graeme McDowell played the most consistent golf this week.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The thing is, we don’t know what Graeme McDowell’s name will evoke a decade from now. If he turns into a Paul Lawrie, then of course there’s not much luster there, but still he has his name on the trophy. But he could turn into Tony Jacklin, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo. He’s made a great first step here, and he could quit today and he would have done way more than most. I love his brio, his golfing intelligence and his devotion to the pub.

Garrity: Our third-round leader, Dustin Johnson, needed only four holes to hit for the cycle: par, triple-bogey, double-bogey, bogey. To what do you attribute his meltdown? Was it nerves, poor course management, or was he simply hurrying?

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Johnson was freaked-out nervous. I bet he doesn’t remember many of the gaffes; his mind was likely blanked out.

Godich: I was amazed at how quickly he played those shots at the second hole. He didn’t even take a breath before the left-handed attempt. He sure made NBC look bad, after they had spent all of Saturday describing him as a flatliner. I guess that was true in a way they didn’t intend.

Evans: That flatliner bit put out by D,J.’s caddie is a sad coda on his U.S. Open.

Lipsey: NBC went hog wild on Johnson and Woods, and gave short shrift to McDowell. It would’ve been nice to have seen an interview with his dad on the back nine. Dad was probably shaking nervous and would’ve been a nice spot.

Morfit: I agree with that, Rick. Where was the heartwarming interview with his pops? For a few minutes, at least, that would have been better to look at than Tiger and Phil and Ernie spinning their wheels.

Evans: Dustin Johnson was so nervous he couldn’t pull the club back. The next time he’s in this position he’ll know how to compose himself better after a bad shot. He let it get out of hand within seconds of walking on the first tee.

Dusek: Seriously, where was his caddie? After your player implodes on the second hole, you need to conveniently lose the driver on three and hand him a 5-iron, a fairway wood, something that gets him in the fairway. Johnson needed to right the ship, not punch another hole in the leaking boat’s hull.

Godich: If anyone threw this thing away, it was Ernie, especially after the way he started. The double at 10, the poor wedge at 14, the short missed birdie putt at 15, the poor second at the 18th. And he still finishes two shots back?

Gorant: I agree. More than any of the name players, Ernie had the trophy in his hands.

Lipsey: Still, it’s nice to see that Els has rejoined the top ranks of major contenders. So many guys lose the grip and never get it back.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Ernie looked solid on the front nine, then he couldn’t get it done on the back. He should be the most disappointed of the group. This was his great chance to win a third Open, and he let it slip.

Garrity: I know it’s none of my business, but what happened to Tiger? His third-round 66 had all the energy and drama of his Saturday surge at Torrey Pines two years ago. But nothing worked for him today. He hit it into briar patches, drove it off cliffs, missed all his must-make putts, and quietly slid off the leader board. Was his third-round brilliance a predictor of a Tigeresque summer? Or is he still lost at sea?

Gorant: On TV afterward, Tiger said he’s back. He said he only hit one bad shot all day. Otherwise he was just in the wrong spots. Happy with how he played.

Godich: One bad shot?

Garrity: Okay. I believe everything Tiger says.

Evans: Tiger is in denial about his consistency. It’s really sad.

Van Sickle: Tiger hit an awful drive on 3 and an awful tee ball with an iron on 4. That’s two bad shots without even thinking about it. I have to disagree with Tiger’s best-spin assessment. He’s kind of close, but one good round and two lousy ones aren’t close enough. I think he did make some progress though.

Lipsey: Usually, Tiger can say, “just a few things (insert teacher name here) and I need to tighten up, and we’ll be right there.” Now that he’s solo, he has no place to deflect the blame too, so he just denies.

Gorant: He seemed to blame Stevie for a few “bad clubs” today.

Godich: Who’s he going to blame next? I loved David Fay’s retort about the greens during the Saturday telecast for all the world to hear.

Morfit: I say he’s still lost at sea. He missed both ways and with a variety of different clubs.

Hack: The seas are calming and Tiger sees the lighthouse. He’ll be pulling into St. Andrews as the golfer to beat.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Damon nailed it. Tiger’s game is coming around, and he makes it no secret that St. Andrews is his favorite course. I expect him to win there.

Herre: Is TW’s game really “coming around”? I didn’t see much evidence of that in three of the four rounds.

Hack: I’d say a T4 at a brutally difficult U.S. Open after a missed cut, a WD and a 19th-place finish is evidence of a game coming around.

Van Sickle: That’s just it. He came around in one of the rounds, and convincingly. That’s a small step for a man, a big step for mankind.

Dusek: One good round per event becomes two, then three, etc. To think that Woods is going to go through everything he’s dealing with off the course, part ways with his coach and then play brilliantly is just unrealistic.

Morfit: Here’s why Tiger’s game looks better at the majors: Because those are the tournaments where more of the field beat themselves. It’s an illusion. We know this because he missed left, right, short and long with irons and woods, and didn’t putt particularly well. He played well for ONE ROUND!

Hack: Look at the leaderboard. Nobody played even three great rounds of golf here. This major was supposed to beat these guys up, and it did. Tiger had one round in the 60s — so did McDowell, so did Phil, Ernie, Davis, and on and on. I saw plenty of two-way misses coming from a lot of bags this week.

Lipsey: St. Andrews will be the real test. After that, no more time to wait and see if it’s coming around. If it’s not back by then, could be a long dry spell.

Evans: There is nothing like wind to expose bad ball striking. So how can Tiger possibly succeed at St. Andrews?

Morfit: If his personal life sees some sort of resolution, then I could maybe see him winning at St. Andrews. But are you guys saying he’ll be the man to beat based on one good round? That seems pretty optimistic. He hit it everywhere today, and then said he’d hurt himself with only three mental mistakes. Huh?

Hack: I’m basing it on the fact that Tiger plays St. Andrews like no other course on earth and also on his ties for fourth at Augusta and Pebble. He’s clearly getting his groove back. He will be installed as the lone favorite in the UK gambling houses. Wanna bet?

Evans: Damon, Tiger won at Pebble Beach in 2000 by 15 shots. Wouldn’t you also give him some credit for playing that course like no other on earth?

Hack: I actually think Tiger’s 2000 Pebble performance was more about his command than the venue. He says it himself. If he could have a major played at one place every year, it would be St. Andrews. Not Augusta, not Pebble.

Dusek: He said this week that he hit the ball better at St. Andrews in 2000 than here at Pebble. The difference was he made every putt he looked at during that U.S. Open.

Godich: He’ll be in the hunt and probably the favorite at St. Andrews, but the consistency is still not there. It wouldn’t hurt him to tee it up a bit more. You can only hit so many balls on the range.

Evans: Tiger couldn’t hit irons in the fairway, off a tee! His ball striking is inconsistent, and if he had his way, he would burn all 18 greens at Pebble.

Dusek: That’s simply not true. For the week Tiger hit 70% of the fairways and 60% of the greens. Greens that we all saw were not only tiny, but so firm that they played even smaller. It was Tiger’s putting on Thursday, when he was on the green in regulation on every hole on the front nine, that really cost him.

Garrity: Let’s look at Phil Mickelson’s final round. He birdied the first hole and then drove to the back of the green on the par-4 fourth hole. But instead of making eagle — or birdie — he three-putted for par. Did that take the starch out of him? Will he spend his golden years like Sam Snead, answering questions about his U.S. Open curse?

Morfit: When he rolled that putt in on No. 1, I thought this was going to be Phil’s day, but like Tiger he hit some very bizarre shots. He seems to try too hard at the U.S. Open. There’s too much going on in his head with this tournament. He’ll have to be written off before he wins it, if he ever does.

Godich: I agree. He’s always tinkering, probably has a million things going through his mind. He just needs to go out there and play.

Evans: Phil will get his U.S. Open.

Bamberger: There’s nothing cursed in Phil’s life. Look at the grace with which he handles immense disappointment.

Lipsey: Cursed in a goofy sports fan sense. Otherwise, agreed. He’s grace personified, at least in public.

Dusek: Phil teased us again. He started great with the long clubs, but a cold putter wasted it. But he could win at upcoming venues like Congressional, Olympic and Merion. I just think his talent won’t be denied for his entire career.

Hack: Phil knows that an even-par back nine would have placed him in a Monday morning playoff with Mr. McDowell. Still, he went forever without winning a major, and now he has four of those. If I had to choose one way or the other, I’m guessing he’ll win a U.S. Open in the next five or six years.

Gorant: Most disappointing thing about Phil’s day is that he missed the chance to grab another runner-up and burnish his Open legend.

Dusek: If Mickelson had won, that would have made all those runner-up finishes look a lot better. It’s all about perspective.

Walker: A links-type course like Pebble Beach was never going to be the best chance for Mickelson to kill his white whale. He’s got maybe five years left to win a U.S. Open, and he’ll win one of those times.

Garrity: Davis Love birdied No. 11, Els birdied No. 12, and Woods birdied No. 14. Otherwise, the leaders were pretty much backpedaling or hanging on once they made the turn. No roars, no excitement. Should that stretch be softened slightly for the Open, the way Augusta National restored the roars to its back 9?

Lipsey: The course was borderline putt-putt tricked up, so much harder than our amateur eyes can imagine. Although even par — the USGA’s magic number — did win the thing.

Gorant: I don’t think they should soften it. Guys had chances, especially Els at 15, but they missed putts. A lot of near misses, too.

Morfit: The only hole that was borderline — over the border, actually — was 14. And that one was a bad hole at the AT&T this year, too.

Van Sickle: It was straight out of mini-golf. The USGA got that part wrong. It was too bad it influenced the outcome the way it did.

Lipsey: I bet we’ll see some bigger greens in 2019, especially 17. A little more landing area would be fair.

Dusek: No chance.

Van Sickle: Bigger greens? I don’t think so. Who’s going to pay for that? Not the USGA. Not the money-grubbing Pebble Beach Co. No chance.

Herre: The 14th green will be changed. That hole was a joke.

Dusek: You’re right. The four hole placements are all within steps of each other, and half the putting surface is unusable. Running at 13.5 on the Stimpmeter, it’s crazy.

Garrity: The USGA wanted the cliffs to come into play, and today they did. Tiger ran it off the edge on 6 and made bogey. Ernie Els went down by the beach on 10 and made double. How do the Cliffs of Doom compare to the sphincter-tightening closing holes at TPC Sawgrass?

Lipsey: The TPC closers are much more fun to watch — 16, 17 and 18 there are the best closing show in golf.

Evans: If they could have re-routed the course, the Cliffs would have been better finishing holes than asking pros to hit a long iron into a tiny green at the 17th and hitting driver and 5-iron into a marginal par-5 18th. But coming in the middle of the round, you won’t ever win or lose the tournament there.

Dusek: You can lose a U.S. Open on any hole over four days. Dustin Johnson lost it on the second hole Sunday. And while we’re at it, let’s re-route St. Andrews so it finishes on 17!

Van Sickle: Farrell makes a good point. There are two holes where the USGA didn’t get it right. The 14th with the shaved banks and the 17th, where even Superman couldn’t hold a shot. Move the tee up at 17 or soften the green. I’ve never been a fan of that hole, anyway. What a waste of brilliant ocean-front property. Those two holes piled on some needless bogeys and need improving.

Godich: No comparison between Pebble and Sawgrass. The 16th at Sawgrass is shorter than the ninth and 10th at Pebble. And you could almost fit those three greens at Pebble onto the 17th at Sawgrass.

Van Sickle: Cliffs of Doom are way better. You have to play a poor shot to get hosed. At 17 at Sawgrass, you can hit the green and still go in the water and make triple. Also, they’re on the Monterey Peninsula, which beats Florida every dang time.

Lipsey: Better, maybe, but not more fun to watch

Garrity: Tom Watson, who won his only U.S. Open here in ’82, missed a tiny birdie putt on the 72nd hole, but he’s the second-oldest man to make the cut in the U.S. Open. Given his play at Pebble and his unbelievable near-victory last year at Turnberry, can he be possibly contend next month at St. Andrews?

Lipsey: Very unlikely, unless it’s bad weather and scores are bad. No geezer can go as low as the tykes.

Morfit: If the weather’s crappy, yes.

Godich: Why not? Most impressive was the string of five-footers he made on the front nine today. No secret, but it’s all about the putter with the other TW.

Herre: I think Watson’s 2009 British showing was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. He’s simply too shaky on the greens.

Gorant: The wide-open setup favors the big hitters, which will make it tough for him, but you can’t count out his experience and wile on a links course.

Evans: The last two British Opens should have been won by geezers — Norman and Watson. So I wouldn’t be surprised if Watson contends and plays in the last group with Tom Lehman and Sandy Lyle.

Lipsey: You’ve lost your marbles yet again. Sandy Lyle couldn’t win the Spook Rock senior flight C title.

Dusek: Another Watson run is too much to hope for. But I suppose a 60-year-old is capable of what a 59-year-old achieved.