Thursday 8 December 2016

Lowry agony as Johnson survives Open rules storm

Published 20/06/2016 | 02:30

Shane Lowry reacts to a shot on the eighth hole during the final round of the US Open. Inset: Dustin Johnson celebrates with partner Paulina Gretzky and son Tatum after winning his first Major. Photo: Getty Images
Shane Lowry reacts to a shot on the eighth hole during the final round of the US Open. Inset: Dustin Johnson celebrates with partner Paulina Gretzky and son Tatum after winning his first Major. Photo: Getty Images
Dustin Johnson of the United States celebrates with partner Paulina Gretzky and son Tatum after winning the final round of the U.S. Open. Photo: Getty Images

The 116th US Open championship exploded into controversy over a 'did he or didn't he?' rules situation concerning new champion Dustin Johnson at Oakmont last night.

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Johnson, the man who fouled up his chance of winning this championship at Chambers Bay last year when he three-putted from 12 feet to hand Jordan Spieth the title, found himself once more the centre of controversy.

But Johnson, 31, who seemed destined to keep a Major championship off his golfing CV, finally broke the hoodoo, despite playing most of the second nine under threat of receiving a one-shot penalty.

He refused to buckle, and got home in 68 for a five-under par 275 to clinch victory. Officials then docked him the penalty shot, so the official score was 69, and four-under par 276.

Shane Lowry's magnificent effort of the previous 54 holes faltered, and he shot 76 for 279.

As the final holes were played out, the USGA, the organisers of the championship, came under fire from former champions Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Webb Simpson for their turnabout decision to evaluate a possible penalty for Johnson when the tournament was over.

The situation arose on the fifth hole, where Johnson backed off a short par putt, having missed from four feet for birdie.

He called in a Rules official, asserted that he had not caused the ball to move and that he had not addressed the putt.

Playing partner Lee Westwood backed up the American, and the official deemed no penalty.

But later, with Johnson leading on five-under par, and 54-hole leader Shane Lowry dropping from a starting seven-under, to three-under, Johnson was approached and told the USGA would review the matter when the round was over.

Twitter reaction was intense. "Amateur hour from @usga" said McIlroy.

"This a joke?" tweeted Spieth.

Shadow

Simpson said Johnson did "nothing", posted in capital letters, to cause the ball to move. Did Lowry and other contenders know there was a shadow hanging over Johnson?

It did not seem so, as the Irishman finally posted his first birdie of the day, pitching to two feet from 19 yards off the par-five 12th to get to four-under. Technically, Lowry at that point was just one shot behind Johnson, but how could he be sure?

Eventually, we heard that all the referees on the course had been told about the plan to assess Johnson's situation at the end of the fourth round, and they told the relevant players.

America's Scott Piercy and Sergio Garcia were both on three-under after 14 holes. Johnson told on-course TV media that he had not caused the ball to move, and was not worried, but he proceeded to drop a shot with a bogey four on the 183-yard, par-three 13th hole, after his tee-shot landed in a greenside bunker.

Lowry, who had called a penalty on himself on the 16th on Saturday, and was docked a shot, kept grinding.

Throughout the round, he struggled to reach the comfort zone with his swing and his game that had flowed so well over the weather-affected previous three days.

The Clara native only finished his third round at around 8.15am, local time (3.15pm Irish time) yesterday morning.

He was one of 24 players who had to come back to complete round three before the draw for the final round could be made.

Lowry played holes 15-18 inclusive in two-under par with birdies at the 15th, and 17th, and made two good par saves on holes 16 and 18.

That gave him 65 for a round that had started at 4.50pm local time (9.50pm Irish), and a four shot lead ahead of American shock contender Andrew Landry, who had not previously played in any Major championship.

Johnson was joint second with Landry on three-under after 54 holes.

Lowry came to the 14th last night level for the lead with Johnson on four-under par - as far as anyone knew - and let a five-foot putt slide by for a bogey to fall back to minus-three.

Another bogey on 15, and he was now two-under with three holes to play, and level in joint second with Scott Piercy, giving Johnson a two-shot cushion.

Lowry's day got worse when he then bogeyed 16. All of a sudden, it was Johnson well out in front on four-under, and Jim Furyk, Lowry, Piercy and Branden Grace all on one-under.

Veteran

Veteran Furyk, a former US Open winner, had earlier set the clubhouse lead at one-under with a fighting 66.

"I played my heart out today. I really did a good job other than 15 or 18, where I drove the ball in the rough, both times to the right, very similar swings.

"I was trying to attack a little bit on the back nine. I hit a couple pins and just wasn't able to quite get over the hump on the back nine," he said.

Graeme McDowell shot 72, two-over par, for a finishing total of 286, six-over. "This is a US Open. It's hard. It kind of beat me up a little bit. But definitely I'm taking some good positives out here, and some big stuff ahead of me," said McDowell.

American Brooks Koepka whose caddy is former Irish underage international golfer Ricky Elliott from Portrush, looked likely to challenge Johnny Miller's record 63, set in the fourth round of the US Oakmont in 1973.

Koepka caused a flutter of excitement to run through the huge galleries when he reeled off a magic streak of birdies, firing six in a row from holes four through 11.

It was too good to last. The demanding Oakmont course took them back as Koepka incurred four successive bogeys on the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th holes.

After signing for 68, and a four-over 284, Koepka said: " When you know it's your day, it's your day. Just aim at some flags.

"You're getting good breaks. Things will kind of going your way. They were going our way early. As far as the last four holes go, it's a little disappointing," he said.

Holder Jordan Spieth shot 75 for a nine-over total of 289.

"Funny thing is I felt like I didn't have my game this week. If I play the easy holes at even par, I'm still top five. That's what's tough to swallow leaving this week," said Spieth.

World number one Jason Day did all he could to make an impact, but the best he could do was 71 and two-over par 282.

Irish Independent

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