The US Open, it is said, is as often lost as it is won. At Chambers Bay today, it was Dustin Johnson's turn to play the fall guy, and Jordan Spieth's to write some more history.
Texan Spieth, 21, won his second consecutive major championship of 2015 by a shot, posting a final-round 69 for five-under par.
He watched on television from the hut as Johnson, his Ryder Cup teammate seeking his first major win, blasted a long iron shot to four metres from the flag at the par-five 18th hole and left himself with a putt for an eagle and the victory outright.
Even two putts would have sent it to an 18-hole playoff tomorrow.
But Johnson felt the pressure of the situation and the scars of his history. Five years ago he had endured the cruellest cut in a major, at the PGA Championship, when he was denied a spot in a playoff because of a rules infraction on the final hole; the same year at Pebble Beach he led the US Open into the final round but imploded with a closing 82.
This time he rolled his eagle putt a metre past the hole, burning the cup on the left side. With a metre to hole out and take the event into another day, he tugged the birdie putt left.
He had negotiated 602 yards of that final hole in two brutal blows with a driver and an iron; the last 12 feet and four inches took him three blows with the putter. Such is the confounded way of golf. "When they are fast and bumpy, it's tough to get it in the hole,'' Johnson said. "Whatever the putt did on the last hole, I don't know. I might have pulled it a little bit. But still to me it looked like it bounced left. It's tough. It's very difficult."
Spieth was struggling to comprehend it, for like everyone else, the best result he expected was a playoff. "I'm in shock," he told FOX. "Wow. I watched it with (caddie) Michael (Greller) in there. I just wanted a fighting chance tomorrow. I feel bad for Dustin. I had that feeling on 17. I'm just proud of the way we rebounded on 18."
For all the controversy about the course in Washington, the Open was a blanket finish with most of the best players in the world contending, which is what the event is meant to be about. At least seven players had a legitimate chance to win at certain stages after four — Spieth, Johnson, Jason Day and Branden Grace — had begun the day tied in the lead at four-under.
Both Adam Scott (64) and Rory McIlroy (66) made runs, the Australian holding the clubhouse lead at three-under for an hour, the world No. 1 moving to within a breath of the lead before failing late. Johnson led by two shots through four holes, and still by two after he birdied the eighth. Grace was in the mix until he blasted his tee shot out of bounds on the 16th hole. Then there was Louis Oosthuizen, the sweet-swinging South African.
Oosthuizen had the most amazing day of all, taking bogey at three of the first four holes to be apparently out of contention, then lighting up Chambers Bay with six birdies from the final seven holes. By the time he rolled in the last of those, at the 18th he had a share of the lead with Spieth and had negotiated the back nine in 29, the equal-lowest nine in US Open history.
But Spieth, the man-child and the Masters champion, was the most steady, albeit that he had to scramble after some errant driving. Hanging around the lead and watching the others falter, he rolled in a monster, curling birdie putt at the par-four 16th that put him into a three shot lead. Then almost as soon as this happened, he flared his tee shot wide into the deep fescue grass at the par-three 17th, compounded it with a three-putt from long range, carded a double bogey and conceded a share of the lead to Oosthuizen, ahead of him on the course.
The South African had posted four-under; it meant Spieth needed birdie at the 18th (playing as a par-five on the final day) to take the clubhouse lead, and at least he had an opportunity. "I was able to have one hole to rebound from my mistakes,'' said the American. As is his way, he was ice cool under the heat. A straight tee shot and then a beautiful three wood shot to the green from 284 yards set it up. "Awesome shot,'' said his caddie, Mike Greller, and hardly a truer word was spoken all day. It settled 15 feet from the cup.
Two putts from 15 feet for birdie put Oosthuizen out of the picture, and left the stage for Johnson, in the group behind with Day, who had faded on the final day. For Johnson, the laconic bomber from North Carolina, it meant birdie for a playoff, eagle for the win. But it was a possibility.
He did not hold back, rocket-launching his drive well past 300 metres, and in the fairway, then he smote a gorgeous iron shot up on to the green, past the flag. Harsh as it sounds, what happened next probably explains why Johnson remains — with Day — at the head of the best players in the world not to have won a major. It was a choke for the ages.
Johnson tied for second with Oosthuizen, a shot ahead of Grace and the Australians Scott and Cameron Smith, who enjoyed his breakout tournament at just 21, closing with an eagle to be tied-fourth.
As for the world No. 2 Spieth, he is in incredibly heady territory. He becomes the sixth player in history to hold the Masters and US Open titles at the same time, joining Woods, Nicklaus, Palmer, Hogan and Craig Wood. At 21, he is the youngest Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923. These are the names of golfing legend, and Spieth is walking among them quietly, but brilliantly.
With two major wins at age 21 he is ahead of the Woods-Nicklaus schedule and only matched by Gene Sarazen in 1922. Only Nicklaus (in 1972) has held the Masters, US Open and Australian Open titles at the one time, Spieth having won at The Australian last November with that memorable final-round 63.
He has said he plans on gracing the Emirates Australian Open with his humble and polite presence again later this year, and by then, he could potentially have the Grand Slam of golf, too. With two-from-two in the majors so far, he is of course the only player with the chance of winning all four in a calendar year, a feat only achieved by Bobby Jones (in 1930).
Now wouldn't that be something?