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Webb gem

Simpson rallies to capture US Open as McDowell, Furyk can’t force playoff

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / June 18, 2012
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SAN FRANCISCO - Make it 5 for 5 at the Olympic Club, which is proving to be an underdog’s paradise whenever it hosts the US Open.

No lead is safe on the Lake Course, large or small, especially in the final round. For that, Webb Simpson will be forever grateful.

Simpson strung together a final-round birdie run worthy of a major champion, then made eight straight pars coming in. It was good for a 2-under-par 68 Sunday, which was enough to win the 112th US Open - barely. Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell - who shared the third-round lead, with Simpson four shots back - failed to birdie No. 18, giving Simpson a one-stroke victory. He never held the outright lead until his final round was complete.

“Amazed. I’ve got no words,’’ Simpson said. “I have no experience in major championships of being in contention at all. If I was honest with you I believed in myself I could win a major, but maybe not this soon.

“I couldn’t be happier right now.’’

Simpson is the fifth player in five tries to win a US Open at Olympic Club coming from behind on the final day, joining Jack Fleck (1955), Billy Casper (1966), Scott Simpson (1987), and Lee Janzen (1998).

He did it with four birdies over a five-hole stretch, after bogeys at the second and fifth holes dropped him six shots behind Furyk. But then Simpson made his move. Three straight birdies, on Nos. 6-8, followed by a kick-in birdie at the 10th from 2 feet that brought him within one of Furyk’s lead. A bogey by Furyk at No. 13 created a tie. Another Furyk bogey at the 16th gave Simpson the outright lead for the first time.

With a gutsy par save from 3 feet on the 18th hole, Simpson finished 72 holes at 1-over-par 281. It’s the 15th consecutive major won by a different player, and the ninth straight time it’s been taken by a first-time major winner.

Simpson is not an unknown like Fleck, who beat Ben Hogan in a playoff. But his comeback does include ties to another US Open played here. A 26-year-old who lives in Charlotte, N.C., Simpson played at Wake Forest on a scholarship named for Arnold Palmer. It was Palmer who lost a seven-stroke lead with nine holes to play in 1966, a bitter playoff defeat to Casper that still stings the King.

Now Simpson has joined Palmer as a US Open champion, winning his first major on just his fifth try.

“He’s meant so much for me and for Wake Forest,’’ Simpson said. “To win here with what happened to him, I hope he can smile.’’

A year ago, Simpson was still looking for his first PGA Tour victory. Then he won twice in three starts, the second victory coming at the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston in a sudden-death playoff.

He managed to avoid a playoff this time, using a 68-68 weekend to jump into the lead. From there all he could do was watch, joined by his wife, Dowd, who is expecting the couple’s second child.

Needing birdies at the last hole to force an 18-hole Monday playoff, Furyk and McDowell both found the fairway off the tee. McDowell, playing first, put his approach 24 feet above the hole, with Furyk finding the left greenside bunker.

Furyk bladed the bunker shot he had to hole across the green and into the front bunker, and eventually made bogey, which capped a birdie-less 74 and dropped him to into a tie for fourth at 3 over.

“I don’t know how to put that one into words,’’ Furyk said. “I had my opportunities and my chances, it was right there. On that back nine, it was my tournament to win, and I wasn’t able to do so.’’

McDowell’s putt to tie was left all the way. He had given himself a chance by making a birdie at the 17th, but four front-nine bogeys left him with an uphill climb. He shot 73 and tied for second with Michael Thompson, who had the low round on both Thursday (66) and Sunday (67).

“There’s a mixture of emotions inside me right now. Obviously disappointment, deflation, pride,’’ said McDowell, who was trying to win the US Open for the second time in three years (2010, Pebble Beach). “But mostly just frustration, because I hit three fairways today. It’s the US Open. You’re not supposed to do that, you’re supposed to hit some fairways.

“But Webb’s a great champion. What a great weekend’s work for him, 68-68. He should be very proud of himself.’’

The final-round run that some expected from Lee Westwood (73), Ernie Els (72), or even Tiger Woods (73) was instead authored by Simpson, Thompson, David Toms, and Padraig Harrington.

“I was nervous yesterday and I didn’t want to be nervous today. I wanted to go out and just have confidence,’’ Thompson said. “All in all a special day. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.’’

It’s the second spirited run by Thompson at the Olympic Club. He was the runner-up at the 2007 US Amateur, losing to Colt Knost. Now he’s second again.

Toms and Harrington each shot 68 to finish in the logjam at 3 over.

Simpson, though, had the widest smile by night’s end. Not given much of a chance when he fell six shots down, Simpson started playing the kind of golf that wins US Opens. Especially at the Olympic Club, with a final-round comeback.

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.

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