Sunday 4 December 2016

'I don't think I caused the ball to move' - US Open champion Dustin Johnson on penalty fiasco

Phil Casey at Oakmont

Published 20/06/2016 | 07:12

Dustin Johnson of the United States celebrates with partner Paulina Gretzky and son Tatum after winning the U.S. Open at Oakmont
Dustin Johnson of the United States celebrates with partner Paulina Gretzky and son Tatum after winning the U.S. Open at Oakmont

Dustin Johnson shrugged off the farcical scenes which threatened to ruin the US Open as he celebrated a first major title following several near misses.

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Johnson carded a closing 69 at Oakmont to finish four under par, but only after being given a one-shot penalty following an incident which left players, officials and spectators unsure of his score with just seven holes to play.

The world number six began the final round four shots behind Ireland's Shane Lowry, but moved two clear of the field before being told on the 12th tee that officials would review an incident on his fifth hole after the round.

Johnson had seen his ball move fractionally as he lined up a par putt, but called in the referee walking with his group and was initially cleared of any wrongdoing before holing out for par.

Fortunately for both Johnson and tournament officials, the challenge of rivals Lowry, Scott Piercy and Sergio Garcia faded and Johnson ensured any penalty would not matter with a stunning birdie on the 18th.

"I couldn't be more excited, more happy and more proud of myself, especially with the things that happened last year at the US Open on the 18th hole," said Johnson, who three-putted the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay to finish a shot behind Jordan Spieth.

"To come back this year and to get it done, it's definitely bitter-sweet. It was a lot of fun. I still don't think I caused the ball to move and I don't even understand the rule. I got a penalty but it didn't matter at the end of the day."

Johnson had recorded four top-10 finishes in five majors since missing the 2014 US PGA due to taking a six-month leave of absence from the game to deal with ''personal challenges,'' prompting allegations in the United States of a positive test for cocaine - claims which have dogged him for several years but which he has always strenuously denied.

But Sunday's situation also brought back memories of his nightmare finish to the 2010 US PGA, when a two-shot penalty for grounding his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole cost him a place in the play-off.

Asked how he had coped with being told of the possible penalty, Johnson added: "I knew I was swinging well and I just kept thinking it's just me and the course. I'm playing against the course. I can't control what anyone else does.

''So I just tried to hit golf shots, tried to hit it on the correct side of the hole and two-putt. I hit two great shots on 18. It (his approach) might be one of the best shots I ever hit. So that was very nice, to have a short putt like that to get it in the house.

''It feels good. Feels really good. Feels well deserved. I've had a lot of opportunities that I didn't quite get it done.

"There's a little voice in the back of your head, is it ever going to happen? Well yes, it did happen. So this one's definitely really sweet."

Jeff Hall, the USGA's managing director of rules and competition, defended the decision to inform Johnson of the situation, adding: "I think every situation is unique and you've got to review the facts and do the best you can. It's a tough situation, we did the best that we could and we feel pretty comfortable with the process that we had in place.

"The ball moved. When we evaluated the video and discussed it with Dustin, we were comfortable that his actions near the ball were what caused the golf ball to move, and as a result he was penalised one stroke."

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