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Simpson ends Irish reign

NORTHERN Ireland did not concede the US Open title until the very last putt.

Try as Graeme McDowell did, he could not cajole in the 20-footer on the final green which would have forced the play-off with Webb Simpson.

And so, after a two-year stint across the pond, the US Open trophy returned home as Simpson, the 25 year-old from North Carolina, made it three major wins in succession for the Stars and Stripes.

On a drama-filled day which featured the rise and fall of so many prospective victors, Simpson produced the burst of birdies which were ultimately to win the crown on one-over. And for that, Simpson was the deserving champion.

Yet many will have left The Olympic Club, this tight and torrid track, bemoaning the fates. Of course, McDowell will think of that birdie attempt and wonder, why like at the Ryder Cup two years ago, he could not muster the heroics.

In truth, the overnight leader lost it on the front nine when a succession of poor drives saw him drop four shots. McDowell showed his customary courage to birdie the 17th to close within a shot and after coming into this tournament on the back of three missed cuts he must take the positives. McDowell has emerged as a US Open specialist.

"There's a mixture of emotions inside me right now," said McDowell. "Disappointment, deflation, pride. But mostly just frustration, just because I hit three fairways today. You can't do that in the US Open and although the opportunity on the last was nice to have, and I wished I had holed it, you can't take anything from Webb who shot 68-68 on the weekend."

Maybe, Jim Furyk will feel the most aggrieved, having led for so long. For hours, if not days, it appeared his iron-will and solid game would replay his career highlight of 2003. But Blue-Collar Jim faltered, bogeying the 16th after a wretched drive and then failing to birdie the 17th or 18th. A 74 was not what he was expecting. "It was my tournament to win," said Furyk.


And then there was Lee Westwood, whose long quest for that major goes on following a 73 which left him a tie for 10th, four strokes back. The world No 3 received an awful break on the fifth just when he seemed he would be one of the denouement's principle characters.

His drive was fractionally off line and caught a tree. It stayed in the tree, hidden up in the pine needles, leaving Westwood no option to return to the tee. The result was a double bogey which drained the belief. "It took the wind from my sails," said Westwood.

It left the way for McDowell and Pádraig Harrington to fly the European flag. Harrington posted a fine 68, which earned the Dubliner a tie for fourth on three-over. Harrington wasn't the only major-winner from yesteryear threatening to reprise the glory.

Ernie Els eagled the seventh causing his caddie, Ricci Roberts, to shake the flagstick in the air. It was a premature celebration. Els bogeyed the next, after his ball rolled back down the hill in front of the green, and then the next and was to miss a few birdie efforts coming in.

By then, Michael Thompson, another young American, was in the clubhouse on two-over after a 68, but Simpson had that total in his sights. Four birdies in five holes from the sixth had hurtled the former Walker Cup play deep into contention.


He displayed commendable nerve on the 18th when finding the thick greenside rough and chipping down to three feet. Then it was just a case of waiting.

He was in the locker room with his wife, Dowd, watching it on the television and as McDowell putted, Dowd could barely take the tension. They hugged and kissed and made their way to the ceremony on the 18th green, where a man dressed as a chicken interrupted proceedings. Simpson saw the funny side; most people did. There had been a few laughs in an excruciating finale played out in a mist which drifted in off the Pacific.

"It was pretty nerve wracking," said Simpson after collecting a cheque for nearly 1m. I probably prayed more the last three holes than I've ever done in my life. It helped me stay calm. I thought even though Graeme had a 20-footer, it was probably going to hit the hole or have a good chance. I couldn't be happier right now."

Few would have identified Simpson as the winner at the start of the week. This was his third title having made a big impression last season. Indeed, he ran Luke Donald close for the PGA Tour money-list title. But this is a big step up. We will see him in the Ryder Cup in Chicago in September.

Simpson is the ninth first-time major winner in succession. The game is in a state of flux. The last 15 majors have been won by different golfers.

Of course, Tiger Woods has plenty to do with that. This was a 12th consecutive major without a win for Woods and his performance on the weekend did not inspire confidence in an imminent ending of this run.

Having shared the lead on Friday, he finished 74-73 for a seven-over total which handed him a tie for 21st. On he will go to Royal Lytham for next week's Open Championship desperate to break the cycle.