Simpson rallies on foggy Sunday to win U.S. Open at Olympic Club by one shot

June 18, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO — Your new U.S. Open champion is a 26-year-old father of one with another on the way. He admits to a weakness for Bojangles biscuits and fried chicken, inspired the USGA to change one of the Rules of Golf, and missed his last two cuts coming into the season's second major at Olympic Club.

James Frederick "Webb" Simpson, who broke through with two victories in 2011 but was in the midst of an unremarkable 2012, carded his second straight 68 at fog-shrouded Olympic for a one-over total and a one-shot victory over Graeme McDowell (73) and Michael Thompson (67) at the 112th Open on Sunday.

"One of my thoughts on the back nine was, 'I don't know how Tiger has won 14 of these things,'" Simpson said, "because the pressure — I couldn't feel my legs most of the back nine."

McDowell birdied the 17th hole and had a chance to force a Monday playoff, but his birdie putt from 24 feet on the 18th hole wasn't close, missing left. Simpson and his wife, Dowd, watching cell phone videos of their son, James, in an effort to remain calm, hugged after McDowell's ball eased past the hole.

"There's a mixture of emotions inside me right now," said McDowell, who was trying to win the U.S. Open for the second time in three years. "Obviously disappointment, deflation, pride — but mostly just frustration, just because I hit three fairways today. That's the U.S. Open. You're not supposed to do that."

Related Photos: Simpson rallies in final round at Olympic Club

Jason Dufner (70), Jim Furyk (74), Padraig Harrington (68), John Peterson (70) and David Toms (68) tied for fourth place at three over par, two back.

Children and adults huddled in blankets as the fog turned to a fine mist on a day that was nothing like the first three at this course tucked into the hills by the Pacific Ocean. Second- and third-round co-leader Furyk looked solid while making a series of pars until a shocking snap-hook off the tee at the par-5 16th, where USGA officials moved the tees up to alter the hole from a 670-yard behemoth to 569 yards. He bogeyed three of his last six holes to tie for fourth.

"I don't know how to put that one into words," said a despondent Furyk, who was trying for his second major and 17th official Tour win. "But I had my opportunities and my chances and it was right there. It was my tournament to win."

Furyk questioned the USGA's decision to move the tee up so far on 16, creating a dog-leg left tee shot that players hadn't faced all week.

"I thought they might put the tee up maybe 65 yards, like they did on Friday," he said. "But to get to a tee where the tee box is 100 yards up and the fairway makes a complete L-turn, I was unprepared and didn't know exactly where to hit the ball off the tee."

Ernie Els eagled the seventh hole and birdied 12 to get to within a shot of the lead, but bogeyed two of his last three holes to finish ninth at four over par.

Simpson, who turned pro in 2008 and lives in Charlotte, N.C., made three straight birdies on the sixth through eighth holes, added another at the 10th, and made eight straight pars to hang on for his third Tour victory.

"You know, this is only my second U.S. Open, and so I told myself don't get too excited, don't try to win," said Simpson, who tied for 14th place last year at Congressional. "You've got to go out there and try to make pars, and that's what I did. And luckily I made some putts, and got a couple under out of it."

For the second straight day the USGA set up the Olympic Club's Lake Course to bring the players to their knees on the first six holes, then nurse them back to health on the back nine. With the par-5 17th hole playing just 510 yards, and the 335-yard, par-4 18th requiring only a wedge or 9-iron for the second shot, conditions were right for a player to make a strong finishing kick for the win. As it turned out, Simpson's pars, including a deft up-and-down on 18, were enough.

Tiger Woods provided both the sublime and the ridiculous at this Open, from his air-tight, first-round 69 to his lost weekend of weak bunker shots and fluffed chips. After the way Woods had won at the Memorial two weeks earlier, it was tempting to call it early in favor of the 14-time major champion, who fired a rock-solid 70 in the second round. Woods was 8-1 in majors when holding at least a share of the 36-hole lead, so everyone knew what was coming next. But it turned out that no one knew what was next — seven of 14 fairways hit, 34 putts, and a 75 on a Saturday when 13 players broke par.

Sunday began just as badly as Saturday ended, as Woods went six over for his first six holes. "Tiger's done," a father explained to his son as they crossed the 16th fairway, and that was true, for this week. Woods went three under for his next 12 holes for a final-round 73 and a seven-over total.

"I was just a touch off, and that's fine," he said. "I was still in the ballgame."

At least he hung around a while before falling apart. Phil Mickelson, who along with Woods and Bubba Watson made up Olympic's answer to John, Paul and Ringo for the first two days, hooked his first shot of the tournament into a Monterrey cypress tree and was so off the mark that his opening-round 76 qualified as a minor miracle. The good news: He made the cut with a second-round 71, and he turned 42 on Saturday. The bad news: He never got into contention. Watson (78-71) didn't make the weekend.

"If you played anything less than perfect golf, it was extremely penalizing," Mickelson said, "and I played far from perfect."

University of Oregon golf coach Casey Martin bogeyed his last hole Friday to miss the cut by one, but Martin, who suffers from a painful circulatory condition in his left leg and sued the PGA Tour to win the right to use a golf cart in competition, provided the first human interest story in a week full of them.

Paul Casey withdrew with a shoulder injury before the tournament, which opened a spot for 14-year-old Andy Zhang, who is believed to be the youngest competitor in U.S. Open history. Zhang (79-77) missed the cut by a mile, but he was pumping his fist upon making a putt to break 80 Thursday, and on Friday he said that a simple nod of recognition from Els — they met through the David Leadbetter Academy — provided one of the highlights of his week.

Then there was Beau Hossler, the 17-year-old amateur who just finished his junior year of high school but has already committed to play for Texas. He briefly took the lead during the second round, and while he quickly lost it, he refused to go away in round three (70) before fading Sunday, carding a double bogey at the last for a final-round 76 and a nine-over total. He lost low-amateur honors to current Texas Longhorn Jordan Spieth, who shot 70 to finish seven over.

Simpson made $6.35 million last year, when his ranking sky-rocketed from 208th to ninth, but was having what he called a "slow" follow-up season. After missing cuts at the Players Championship and Memorial he spent long sessions on the range with caddie Paul Tesori, and as part of his preparation for the Open he went on a buddy golf trip to Pinehurst. Simpson knew Olympic, having lost in the first round of the 2007 U.S. Amateur at the fabled track.

"I had a tough draw," he said, "but I liked the course."

Although he made bogeys on two of his first five holes Sunday, Simpson told himself not to panic. Tesori told him to stop watching leaderboards. Seven months pregnant, Dowd Simpson watched as her husband made his remarkable run. Although her due date with the couple's second child is Aug. 3, they will induce labor so he can play in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Aug. 2-5.

The USGA changed the Rules of Golf after Simpson, a Wake Forest product, was given a costly penalty at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last season. Simpson had addressed his ball on the green when the wind moved it, and he was assessed a one-shot penalty that dropped him into a playoff with Bubba Watson, which Simpson ultimately lost. He later won the 2011 Wyndham Championship and Deutsche Bank Championship in a span of three weeks, and went 3-2-0 for the U.S. Presidents Cup team. And now, in just his second U.S. Open and fifth major championship start, Simpson has win number three. At story-time for their 16-month-old son, Webb and Dowd sometimes read a book about space called "Full Moon Rising." Dowd, an actress, reads, while James looks at Webb to see if he's paying attention. James always goes bonkers when they get to the end. Now the family has a new story to tell, the tale of a surprising walk to victory in the cool San Francisco mist.

"If I'm honest with you, I believed in myself that I could win a major," said Simpson, "but maybe not so soon."