Johnson’s three-putt sets up latest major disappointment at U.S. Open

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – In a matter of minutes, Jordan Spieth experienced all the emotions a golfer can experience early Sunday evening in the 115th U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.

Though he’d missed an eagle putt at 18, there was the satisfaction of making birdie at the final hole to get to 5 under par – the lowest he could have shot with the game he had, Spieth reasoned. He then wrestled with the frustration that for all he’d done, hanging in there and grinding over four days, it might not be enough.

That was the dominant sentiment as Dustin Johnson, one of only two golfers left on the golf course, ripped a beautiful 5-iron to the final green to give himself a putt of 12 feet, 4 inches for eagle. It was a putt that would win the U.S. Open; Spieth sat in a scoring trailer with his caddie, Michael Greller, and did not like the helpless feeling of having no control of his outcome. Not one bit.

Johnson, for his part, soon went through the same long grocery list of emotions. He had 12 feet to win it all (“This is why I’m here, why I play the game of golf,” he thought to himself) but ran it past. Now he faced 4 slippery feet to force an 18-hole playoff on Monday. And when that putt veered left and stayed above ground, producing a collective gasp by thousands, he was struck by the shock and finality of the moment. After a long, tough week of work at a quirky, firm, fast and demanding layout, he’d be walking away empty.

No trophy. No playoff. Nothing. It was another close call at a major championship for Johnson, who’d squandered great chances to win in 2010 at Pebble Beach (U.S. Open) and Whistling Straits (bunkergate at the PGA) and again in 2011 at Royal St. George’s (Open Championship). He was so stunned Sunday at Chambers Bay that he even passed on the ceremony where he was to receive his runner-up silver medal. They’ll have to mail it.

Just like that, the U.S. Open was over, and people filed out of the massive grandstands surrounding 18 in sheer disbelief. It’s golf, I guess. Who can really explain it? Why, Ben Martin’s last three rounds at Chambers Bay were 70-86-70.

“I’m disappointed,” a dejected DJ said afterward, “disappointed that I three-putted the last hole. Other than that, I had a damn good week.

“I’m happy with the way I played. … I had a chance to win, again, a major on Sunday. I thought I handled myself very well. I hit the shots when I needed to. So I know what it takes to get it done, it’s real simple: I need to get in the hole faster.”

Johnson, who began Sunday in a four-way tie for the lead at 4 under, shot level-par 70 on Sunday, a round that was all over the map. He turned in 2-under 33, building a two-shot lead that easily – easily – could have been double that.

He made putts of 12 feet (for birdie at No. 4) and 30 feet (a great par save at 6), but missed four birdie attempts of 10 feet or less, including a 4-footer at the third. His ballstriking on the opening nine was textbook.

On the back nine, Johnson started to get loose with a couple iron shots, and he suddenly struggled with the speed of the greens. He three-putted 11, 12 (for par) and 13, sliding back to even for the day. He’d shoot 37 on his incoming nine – that was eight more shots than co-runner-up Louis Oosthuizen needed – and used his putter for 20 of those shots.

“I’m proud of the way I handled myself and the way I played today,” he said one more time outside the locker room. “I just … really struggled getting in the hole today.”

Spieth appeared ready to run away and hide when ran in a 27-footer to birdie 16. Johnson was watching, waiting to hit back at the 16th tee, viewing almost helplessly as his deficit grew to three shots with three to play. Even Spieth thought that was it. But Spieth let Johnson back in with a double-bogey at the penultimate hole, and Johnson looked poised to accept the gift. He hit a beautiful shot below the hole to set up birdie at 17 (6 feet) and then … well, then came his riches to rags finish at 18. At worst he appeared headed for a Monday playoff. And then …

It was absolutely stunning. Even the young 21-year-old left holding onto the trophy, now halfway to a Grand Slam, wasn’t sure quite what to say.

“He’s a great champion,” Spieth said of Johnson. “He’s certainly proven that he closes tournaments out. This was just an odd deal, very odd. I very much feel for Dustin. He deserves to be holding the trophy just as much as I do, I think, this week.

“It just came down to him being the last one to finish, and I was able to have one hole to rebound from my mistakes (after double at 17), and he wasn’t able to get that hole afterwards.”

Instead, Johnson departed the 18th green peering around for his quickest exit. He gave a kiss to his fiancee, Paulina Gretzky, who lifted her sunglasses to wipe away tears, and she handed Dustin their young son, five-month-old Tatum Gretzky Johnson, whose name, not Dustin’s, is emblazoned across the player’s staff bag. The youngster has given him new purpose.

Four years ago, Johnson slept on the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and laid an egg on Sunday, shooting 82. He was stopped in the parking lot that afternoon, and was asked how long that Sunday finish would sting him.

His answer? He’d be over it by the time he got in his plane.

On Sunday at Chambers Bay, Johnson, a day away from his 31st birthday, appeared a little more in shock. This one is going to sting, maybe until he collects that first major. The only thing that helped ease the pain was that little boy in his arms on his first Father’s Day as a dad.

“My trophy at the end of the day,” Johnson said shortly before joining his fiancee, future in-laws Janet Jones and Wayne Gretzy and his brother/caddie, Austin, on the long and dusty trek to his car, “is holding up my little man.”

On this wild, crazy Sunday at Chambers Bay, that would have to do.

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