GUTSY Graeme McDowell battled all the way up to the 72nd hole at the US Open, keeping Webb Simpson on tenterhooks until he missed the 24 foot downhill putt for birdie which would have forced a playoff.
Simpson, 27, became the ninth successive first-time winner at the Majors after posting two splendid rounds of 68 over a gruelling weekend at Olympic Golf Club.
Jim Furyk, who’d shared the lead with McDowell on one-under entering the final round, lost a golden shot at his second US Open title when he hooked his tee shot deep into the trees on his way to a nightmare bogey at 16.
After failing to card a single birdie in a frustrating final round 74, the crestfallen Furyk fell back into a tie for fourth with Padraig Harrington, David Toms, John Peterson and Jason Dufner.
For the first time since the US PGA at Oakland Hills in August 2008, Harrington, 40, the buzz of challenging for victory down the stretch at one of golf’s grand slams events.
Though he played the first six holes at Olympic in two-over, the Dubliner fired himself back into contention with a hat-trick of birdies on seven, eight and nine, before pitching-in from the left rough for a fabulous birdie two at 13.
Harrington mouthed the words “you little beauty” as he marched after that shot and really got the scent of victory by getting up-and-down from a greenside trap for another sweet birdie at 17.
Though he stood in mid-fairway at the last with a gap-wedge in his hand, Harrington pulled his approach off a sidehill-downhill lie into the left trap. With his ball badly buried, he did well to make bogey.
Harrington earned $277,000 and enough ranking points to lift him 19 places to No 75 in the world.
Yet McDowell was Ireland’s undoubted hero as he forced his way back into contention despite leaking four shots on the front nine of his final round 73.
Like Harrington, he made birdie four out of sand at 17. Another at the last would have forced a playoff but even though he played a sweet shot from the right semi-rough into the green, McDowell misread the difficult downhill putt.
So the Portrush ace came up just one short of his second US Open title in three years and a famous hat-trick by Ulstermen at golf’s most difficult Major. Instead, he shared second with American Michael Thomson, earning $696,000 and made virtually certain of his place at September’s Ryder Cup in Medinah.