Jordan Spieth said he didn’t know quite how to react when Dustin Johnson missed two putts on the final hole to make the 21-year-old Texan the youngest player to win golf’s U.S. Open since Bobby Jones in 1923.
“I can’t seem to wrap my head around the finish,” Spieth said after Johnson three-putted from 12 feet with a chance to win or force an 18-hole playoff.
The 115th U.S. Open may be remembered as much for the player who let a chance at winning slip away at Chambers Bay Golf Course outside Seattle as the man who won.
Spieth had a tap-in birdie at the par-5 18th hole, putting him one shot ahead of Johnson, who was playing in the final group. Johnson had a 12-foot attempt at an eagle for the win, but ran his putt by the hole and then missed a 5-foot birdie try. It ended an emotional roller coaster for Spieth, who briefly opened a three-shot lead with a birdie at the 16th hole before a double-bogey at the par-3 17th hole.
“I thought I had won it on 16 and after 17 I thought I needed to play 18 well just to play tomorrow. And then after D.J. hit his second shot in, I thought, ‘Shoot, I may have lost this tournament,’” said Spieth, who shot a 1-under-par 69 on Sunday. “And then just utter shock at the finish.”
Spieth finished with a four-day total of 5-under 275, one better than Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen, who birdied six of the final seven holes to make a late charge. It was Johnson’s par on the 18th hole that will be remembered most.
“I did everything that I was supposed to do,” Johnson said after his final-round 70. “I hit the ball really well. I’m proud of the way I handled myself and the way I played. I just really struggled getting in the hole.”
Spieth is the sixth golfer to win both the Masters and the U.S. Open in the same year and the first to do so since Tiger Woods in 2002. That select group of champions also includes Craig Wood (1941), Ben Hogan (1951 and 1953), Arnold Palmer (1960) and Jack Nicklaus (1972). The season’s next major is the British Open, set for July 16-19 at St. Andrews in Scotland.
“It’s cool to be able to have two legs of the Grand Slam now and to conquer golf’s hardest test,” Spieth said.
In his young career, Spieth has been chasing many of the records set by Woods, and now he’s surpassed the 14-time major champion for one milestone. Two months after earning the green jacket at Augusta National as the second-youngest Masters winner behind Woods, Spieth became the youngest player to win two career majors since Hall of Famer Gene Sarazen in 1922.
Spieth, an American, entered the U.S. Open as the second-ranked player in the world behind only Rory McIlroy, who finished tied for ninth at Chambers Bay. While McIlroy will remain No. 1 in the next Official World Golf Ranking, no player has been as successful as Spieth in 2015.
In 16 events since February, Spieth now has 10 top-10 finishes, three victories and a total of $7.8 million in winnings. Spieth pocketed $1.8 million for winning the U.S. Open. He’s also become one of the sport’s top earners off the course, with endorsement partnerships with Under Armour Inc., AT&T Inc., Fortune Brands’ Titleist and Rolex.
Spieth opened the tournament with rounds of 68, 67 and 71, leaving him in a four-way tie for the lead entering the final round with Johnson, Jason Day and Branden Grace.
Johnson opened a two-shot advantage midway through the round with a pair of birdies on the first nine holes, but stumbled with three bogeys in a four-hole span from the 10th to the 13th holes. Spieth and Grace were left atop the leaderboard after birdies at the par-4 12th and remained tied until the par-4 16th, the site of a crucial three-shot swing.
Grace hit his drive out of bounds, pushing his shot well right toward Puget Sound, over a fence and across a pedestrian walkway toward the train tracks that run parallel to the hole. He made a double bogey on the hole while Spieth sunk a 26-foot birdie putt to get to 6 under.
Spieth’s three-shot lead with two holes left quickly dissipated, as he made his own double bogey at the par-3 17th and Oosthuizen tied him at 4 under with a birdie at No. 18.
As Johnson birdied the 17th to grab a share of the lead, Spieth hit a 324-yard drive and then a 274-yard second shot that curled off the back slope of the green to within 16 feet of the cup. Spieth, who had criticized the 18th hole when it played as a par-4 earlier in the week, trickled his putt down to tap-in range to regain the lead.
Spieth said he was preparing for a playoff at best when Johnson reached the 18th green in two shots, but two wayward putts later he was the U.S. Open champion. Johnson’s birdie attempt completely missed the cup to the left for his latest disappointment in a major championship.
“I might have pulled it a little bit,” Johnson said. “But still to me it looked like it bounced left. It’s tough.”
At the 2010 U.S. Open, Johnson shot a final-round 82 after taking a lead into the final day. That same year at the PGA Championship, Johnson’s gaffe in a bunker on the 18th hole led to a penalty that cost him a chance to make a playoff. His girlfriend, Paulina Gretzky, was left in tears outside the scorer’s tent after Johnson’s misses on Sunday.
“I think there’s only one tournament in the world that could finish like that and it’s this one,” said Spieth, who became the first player to win the U.S. Open with a birdie on the 72nd hole since Jones in 1926.
Grace, Adam Scott and Cameron Smith tied at 3 under, one shot ahead of Charl Schwartzel. Brandt Snedeker was the only other player below par at 1 under. Day, who was tied for the 54-hole lead and playing despite a bout of vertigo, shot a final-round 74 to finish at even par.
Spieth and Woods are now the only players since 1940 to win four times on the PGA Tour before their 22nd birthday.
While Spieth’s successes grow, Woods’s struggles continue.
Woods, who entered the week at 195th in the world ranking, missed the cut for weekend play at Chambers Bay for just the second time in 19 U.S. Open appearances after rounds of 80 and 76. The combined 36-hole score of 156 was his worst in 308 professional starts on the PGA Tour.
The last time Spieth competed at Chambers Bay was at the 2010 U.S. Amateur Championship, where at 17 he shot 83 in his lone stroke-play round and failed to qualify for the match play portion of the competition.
Spieth had the advantage of local knowledge this week. His caddie, Michael Greller, is a resident of Gig Harbor, Washington, and until 2011 spent time as a Chambers Bay caddie while also working as a teacher. Greller married his wife on the 15th hole at Chambers Bay.
“He’s my right-hand man,” Spieth said. “He’s the only other guy who can control the outcome of what I do on the course. To win this one for him is really special.”