The 121st edition of golf’s second oldest Major Championship was at Torrey Pines in San Diego, California which is one of only six public courses (out of 53 total facilities) that have hosted America’s oldest Major.
The last time the US Open was played at the venerable links by the Pacific, it produced one of the most fantastic finishes in history. In 2008, Tiger Woods narrowly edged out Rocco Mediate in an 18-hole playoff on Monday to win his 14th Major in one of the most epic battles ever.
Much of the battling this week happened before a single shot was played. Defending US Open Champion Bryson DeChambeau and two-time winner Brooks Koepka have been sparring verbally with each other for the last several weeks to the point where there seems to be genuine animosity between the two star players.
Much of the vitriol comes from the aggressive Koepka who has probably taken things a little too far, but DeChambeau has also been a willing participant. Purists point out that the game should be played by gentlemen and ladies and that their behavior should mirror the Game’s rules and etiquettes. Much of what has transpired in the last weeks between these two has crossed those lines.
Mercifully golf began on Thursday and became the focal point of the week. Water had slowed down the greens at Torrey Pines and while the rough was its usual diabolical length for the US Open, the course was very playable and scores were there to be had.
23 players were in red figures after the first round headed up by South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen who acquitted himself so brilliantly at last month’s PGA Championship and 32-year-old American Russell Henley at 4-under. Italy’s Francisco Molinari and Spain’s Rafa Cabrera-Belo were a stroke further behind at 3-under.
Koepka was joined by fellow Americans Xander Schauffele and Hayden Buckley in a group of 6 players at 5-under that also included Spanish star Jon Rahm, Masters Champion Hideki Matsuyama and Columbian Sebastian Munoz. The last time we saw Rahm was at the Memorial tournament two weeks ago when he had to withdraw after the 3rd round, with a six-shot lead, because he had tested positive for Covid.
There was a baker’s dozen group of players at 1-under par that included last year’s US Open runner up Matthew Wolff, Australia’s Adam Scott (where have you been lately?) and 4-time Major winner Rory McIlroy whose last win in a Major came 7 years ago at the 2014 PGA Championship.
For those of you who think that Phil Mickelson was an unlikely winner of the PGA Championship last month, Richard Band would make an even more remarkable victor of the US Open. The 48-year-old Englishman is the poster boy for “journeyman” professional. Bland captured his first title on the European Tour in May when he triumphed the Betfred British Masters, in his 478th start on the European Tour.
After a second round 4-under 67, Bland would be tied for the halfway lead heading into the weekend with fellow unexpected contender, Henley who continued his great play with a 1-under 70. At 5-under they were one ahead of Oosthuizen and Wolff.
Adding to the gathering of unconventional was Bubba Waston whose 4-under left him tied with Rahm a stroke behind at 3-under. The two-time Masters champion is perhaps the most hot and cold player in the history of the Tour. When the savant like lefty is “on” he is truly on but when things aren’t clicking, he joins the ranks of mortals.
Canadian Mackenzie Hughes, and Americans Kevin Streelman and Schauffele were in a trio at 2-under. Schauffele seems to be on the verge of joining the elite list of star players having already won 4 times on the PGA tour. The 27-year-old from San Diego also has a penchant for the US Open having finished sixth or better in all four of his starts to date.
Rodgers, Italy’s Guido Migliozzi and 24-year-old American Scottie Scheffler were the last remaining players in red figures at 1-under.
A quartet of American stars though were lurking at even par: Koepka, DeChambeau, Colin Morikawa and Justin Thomas shared that number with Harris English, South Africans Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Branden Grace and Canada’s Adam Hadwin.
71 players made the cut at 4-over and better so technically all the players were within 9 shots of the lead and someone who could produce a sublime final 36 could still claim the coveted silver trophy.
Predictably Cinderella’s slipper fell off the affable Bland who ballooned to a 6-over 77 in Saturday’s third round. The slipper though was immediately worn by another contender in Hughes whose 3-under 68 left him atop of the leaderboard heading into Sunday. If Hughes could capture the US Open, he would become only the second Canadian to win the trophy.
Oosthuizen and Henley shared second place a shot behind at 4-under. They were one clear of a surging McIlroy whose 4-under 67 was the best round of the day and DeChambeau who fashioned a 68 of his own. Scheffler, Rahm and Wolff were one further back at 2-under followed by Dustin Johnson, Morikawa, Bezuidenhout, Schauffele, and Streelman.
England’s Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, Korea’s Sun Kim, Koepka, Thomas and English were the six players tied at even par and realistically the last remaining players with a chance to win.
After the opening-9 of Sunday’s final round the cream had most certainly risen to the top. AS the players made the turn, DeChambeau was at 5-under and had a one stroke advantage over Morikawa, McIlroy and Oosthuizen. Hughes, Koepka and Rahm were another shot behind at 3-under with Wolff and Henley at 2-under. It was to be a battle of the titans for the final 9.
But even titans fall. DeChambeau, Morikawa, McIlroy and Koepka all began going backwards while the steely Oosthuizen kept playing his steady game making a series of pars while those around him faltered. The 3-year old South African won the Open Championship in 2010 at St. Andrews but since the n has had a string of near misses in Majors. Oosthuizen has the perhaps unwanted distinction of being a runner-up in all 4 Major Championships.
Rahm was the only player keeping pace with Oosthuizen and after a string of 7 pars, the hulking Spaniard made a long birdie on the par-4th 17th hole to tie for the lead at 5-under. When he followed that up with another birdie on the last hole, he would have the outright lead in the clubhouse at 6-under.
Long earmarked for superstardom the 26-year old from the Basque country has won 5 times already on the Tour but his sometimes volcanic temper has prevented him from make the most of his massive talent. In 2020, Rahm ascended to the top spot in the Rolex world rankings becoming only the second Spanish player (Seve Ballesteros) to do so.
When Oosthuizen hit his tee shot into the hazard along the par-4 17th resulting in a bogie-5, he needed to make an eagle to tie Rahm on the last hole which was unable to do. His par 5 would leave him at 4-under for the Championship and give him his fifth runner-up finish in the Majors.
Rahm’s triumph made him the first player from his country to win the US Open and was the fulfillment of all the potential he has shown. It may just be the beginning of extraordinary achievements for “Rhambo”.