With the three Irish competitors finishing in the Top-30 at Pebble Beach it was a strong showing, particularly from McDowell and Lowry, but was it another case of ‘almost but not quite’ for McIlroy?
For Graeme McDowell there was a continuation of the recent excellent form which saw him qualify for The Open Championship with a 30-foot putt on the final hole in Canada and the confidence that he has carried since the win in Puntacana in March certainly helped him bag a T16 finish at Pebble, the scene of his US Open victory in 2010.
McDowell shot 1-over on the final day but he had to work hard for it with 3 birdies and two bogeys in his closing five holes and although his 72 strokes was his worst return for the week (69, 70, 70, 72) he’ll be happy with a top-20 finish.
Shane Lowry on the other hand struggled for the first two days, barely made the cut following an opening day 75 but his 69 on day two was simply superb. While weekend rounds of 70 and 69 saw the Offaly-man jump up the leaderboard for a T28 finish, eleven shots behind the American winner, Gary Woodland.
As for Rory McIlroy, the 30-year old was not out of contention heading to the final day just five shots off the pace, but he couldn’t keep up with the leaders and returned a 1-over par final round, which included two double bogeys on 2 and 16 in a rollercoaster card which also included 6 birdies and 3 bogeys.
Although he was 0 from 7 in converting 54-hole leads you never really got the sense that Woodland was going to lose his hold on the lead this time and the highest-ranked player in the FedExCup without a victory at the start of the week held off charges from both Xander Schauffele and double defending Champion Brooks Koepka who shot 66 and 67 respectively to keep the pressure on.
In the end three pars and a long birdie putt on the last gave Woodland a 3-shot win for his first Major victory and he was primed for it from day one with rounds of 68, 65, 69 and 69.
“I think from a mental standpoint I was as good as I’ve ever been. I never let myself get ahead of myself. I never thought about what would happen if I won, what comes with it.,” said Woodland.
“I wanted to execute every shot. I wanted to stay in the moment. I wanted to stay within myself. I knew I was playing good going in, but I’ve been playing good going into a lot of tournaments before and haven’t had the results I’d like. I was proud of myself to stay in it, to slow down a little bit, to slow my thinking down and really focus on what I was doing and not let my mind wander at all.”
“I’ve worked hard my whole life. I’ve been surrounded by amazing people and I always just wanted to be successful. I didn’t know what it was, what I was going to do. I fell in love with golf, and it’s transcended to today. And it all kind of came out of me. I never kind of let myself get ahead, just told myself it’s never over, and when the last putt went in, it all came out. I was more nervous afterwards than I was at all today. I’m glad it’s over with.”
On the final green the arms went up and the former basketball player turned golfer let out all that emotion that he’d been keeping bottled up and to win of Father’s Day was just as special for him as it was for McDowell when he won in 2010 and it moves him to fifth in the Fed-Ex Cup standings.
“Oh, just glad it was over. I didn’t let myself get ahead at all today. Didn’t ever let myself think the tournament was over. So I just stayed in it. I knew the putt was big. I knew Tiger shot 12-under here when he won in 2000. So I knew trying to get one more would have been nice. But I would have taken 12 pretty easily too.”
“It’s nice to have my dad here. Obviously I’ve got my son at home that turns two next week. I’ve got identical twin girls on the way in a couple months. So it’s a special day.”
Koepka was gracious in defeat, having won the last two US Opens and he put on a brave defence saying; “I played great. Nothing I could do. Gary played a great four days. That’s what you’ve got to do if you want to win a U.S. Open, win a major championship and hats off to him. Cool way to go out on 18, to make that bomb. He deserves it, he’s worked hard and I’m happy for him.”
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