SAN FRANCISCO — Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open and put two more names into the graveyard of champions.
Overlooked for so much of the week, Simpson emerged on a fog-filled Sunday at The Olympic Club with four birdies around the turn and a tough chip out of a hole to the right of the 18th green that he converted into par for a 2-under 68.
He finished at 1-over 281, and it was enough to outlast former U.S. Open champions Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell.
Furyk bogeyed two of his last three holes. McDowell had a 25-foot birdie on the 18th to force a playoff, but it never had a chance.
“Oh, wow,” Simpson said, watching from the locker room.
Olympic is known as the “graveyard of champions” because proven major winners who were poised to win the U.S. Open have always lost to the underdog. One of those was Arnold Palmer in 1966, when he lost a seven-shot lead on the back nine.
Perhaps it was only fitting that the 25-year-old Simpson went to Wake Forest on an Arnold Palmer scholarship.
“Arnold has been so good to me,” Simpson said. “Just the other day, I read that story and thought about it. He’s meant so much to me and Wake Forest. Hopefully, I can get a little back for him and make him smile.”
No one was beaming like Simpson, who followed a breakthrough year on the PGA Tour with his first major.
No one was more disgusted than Furyk, in control for so much of the final round until he snap-hooked his tee shot on the par-5 16th hole to fall out of the lead for the first time all day, and was unable to get it back. Needing a birdie on the final hole, he hit into the bunker. He crouched and clamped his teeth onto the shaft of his wedge. Furyk made bogey on the final hole and closed with a 74, a final round without a single birdie.
McDowell, who made four bogeys on the front nine, at least gave himself a chance with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th and a shot into the 18th that had him sprinting up the hill to see what kind of chance he had. The putt stayed left of the hole the entire way, and he had to settle for a 73.
McDowell shared second place with Michael Thompson, who closed with a 67 and waited two hours to see if it would be good enough.
Tiger Woods, starting five shots behind, played the first six holes in 6-over par and was never a factor. He shot 73 and finished six strokes back.
Furyk was fuming, mostly at himself, for blowing a chance at his second U.S. Open title. He also was surprised that the USGA moved the tee up 100 yards on the 16th hole to play 569 yards. It was reachable in two shots for some players, though the shape of the hole featured a sharp turn to the left.
“There’s no way when we play our practice rounds you’re going to hit a shot from a tee 100 yards up unless someone tells you,” Furyk said. “But the rest of the field had that same shot to hit today, and I’m pretty sure no one hit as (bad) a shot as I did. I have no one to blame but myself.
“I was tied for the lead, sitting on the 16th tee,” he said. “I’ve got wedges in my hand, or reachable par 5s, on the way in and one birdie wins the golf tournament. I’m definitely frustrated.”
But he gave Simpson his due.
Of the last 18 players to tee off in the final round, Simpson was the only one to break par. That didn’t seem likely when Simpson was six shots behind as he headed to the sixth hole, the toughest at Olympic. That’s where he started his big run.
His 7-iron landed in the rough and rolled 5 feet away for birdie. He made birdie on the next two holes, including a 15-footer on the par-3 eighth. And his wedge into the 10th settled 3 feet away, putting him in the mix for the rest of the day.
“It was a cool day,” Simpson said. “I had a peace all day. I knew it was a tough golf course. I probably prayed more the last three holes than I ever did in my life.”
Simpson’s shot from the rough on the 18th hole went just right of the green and disappeared into a hole, a circle of dirt about the size of a sprinkler cap. With a clump of grass behind the ball, he had a bold stroke for such a nervy shot and it came out perfectly, rolling 3 feet by the hole for his much-needed par.
Then, it was time to wait.
It was the third time in the last seven years that no one broke par in the U.S. Open. On all three occasions, the winner was in the locker room when it the tournament ended.
While Furyk will be haunted by his finish, McDowell can look back at his start — four bogeys on the front nine — and his inability to find fairways. Even on the last hole, his tee shot tumbled into the first cut of rough and kept him from being able to spin the ball closer.
“There’s a mixture of emotions inside me right now — disappointment, deflation, pride,” he said. “But mostly just frustration, just because I hit three fairways today. That’s the U.S. Open. You’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to hit it in some fairways. And that was the key today for me.”
Beau Hossler, the 17-year-old who started only four shots behind, disappeared quickly and closed with a 76. He showed up at Olympic hopeful only of making the cut, then being low amateur, then perhaps winning. He had to settle for the first one. A double bogey on the last hole meant Jordan Spieth (70) was low amateur.
Woods has never won a major when trailing going into the last round, and he kept that streak going.
Starting with a tee shot buried in the rough just off the first fairway, he bogeyed the opening two holes and chopped up the par-3 third hole for a double bogey. His name was removed from the board before the leaders even stepped onto the first tee. He played that infamous six-hole start in 6 over. And that 69-70 start that gave him a share of the lead going into the weekend felt like a distant memory.
“I was just a touch off,” Woods said of his 75-73 weekend. “But I was still in the ball game. Today I just got off to a horrific start, and just never got it going early. And unfortunately, I put myself out of it.”
For Westwood, the sting was sharper — and quicker. His tee shot on the fifth hole struck a towering cypress tree and never came down. Westwood gazed at the top of the 40-foot tree, even using binoculars to try to find it. But it was back to the tee for his third shot, a double bogey that made him part of Olympic lore on the fifth hole, only with a far different outcome.
It was the same hole — but not the same tree — where Lee Janzen’s ball dropped from the branches as his back was turned while walking back to the tree. Janzen converted that break into another U.S. Open title in 1998. Westwood never threatened again in trying to win his first major.
Furyk and McDowell were slugging it out over the opening six holes, and no one seriously challenged them for the first few hours of the final round.
It changed quickly, and it was tight the rest of the way with as many as eight players believing they could win this championship.
Thompson, whose 66 in the opening round was the best score of the week, played bogey-free on the back nine and picked up a birdie on the par-5 16th with a wedge that settled near the flag. Despite missing an easy birdie chance on the 17th, he was in the clubhouse at 2-over 282.
Els drove the par-4 seventh green and holed an 8-foot eagle putt that brought him within two shots of the lead. He lost hope, however, when he slightly pulled his wedge into the 16th. It went into a collection area, and his putt up the slope came back at his feet. He had to scramble for a bogey.
“I’ll go to bed tonight thinking of the 16th, the third shot,” he said. “That basically cost me the tournament.”
Padraig Harrington came out of nowhere with five birdies in 11 holes to reach 2 over, but from the 18th fairway, he buried his approach in a bunker and made bogey.
Even so, this was a major that looked as if it would belong to McDowell or Furyk. One of them lost it early, the other one lost it late.
Simpson joined them as a U.S. Open champion, a win that moved him to No. 5 in the world.
FIRST-TIME ACE: John Peterson had never made a hole-in-one before.
It was easy to tell Saturday at the U.S. Open.
Peterson’s tee shot on the par-3 13th from 180 yards out landed about 15 feet short of the pin, caught the ridge and trickled in for an ace. He tossed his 7-iron, threw his hands in the air almost fell when he leaped to chest-bump his caddie.
“When it went in, man, I don’t know what I did. I want to watch the replay,” said Peterson, whose third-round 72 left him four shots behind leaders Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell. “I hope y’all have a replay so I can see it again. But I went nuts. I know that. I tried to chest-bump my caddie and I missed.”
Even playing-partner and fellow former LSU standout David Toms high-fived Peterson in exuberance.
“I had my hands up in the air,” Toms said. “I don’t know if he could see it because I was probably in front of him watching his ball, and the crowd was going nuts. And it was pretty cool, I was pretty happy for them.”
The ace will finally give Peterson some family bragging rights.
The first tee shot his mother ever hit, landed in the cup. Luckily for her, she didn’t have to play the treacherous Olympic Course. In fact, she has never played again.
“She hit one shot in her life and it went in,” Peterson said. “And she quit. Smart girl.”
MINIATURE GOLF: Players teed off from the most forward box Saturday on the par-3 15th, which played at 107 yards. That didn’t make it easy. The hole location was four paces from the edge, tucked in the front-left corner.
“The flag on 15 is one the hardest flags I’ve ever seen on a par 3,” said Lee Westwood, who took par on the hole all three rounds.
No. 15 played at 150 yards Thursday, and 143 on Friday.
There were 38 birdies the first two days, compared to 58 bogeys or worse. On Saturday the hole produced eight birdies and 12 bogeys.
The USGA added a little distance to the next hole, making the longest hole in tournament history a yard longer, at 671 yards, with the hole location set in the back-right corner just over the front-right bunker.
The pin on that hole also was placed just four paces from the fringe — one of seven holes tucked that close to the edge.
USGA officials hand-watered all the greens Friday night then added more water Saturday morning to keep them from drying out.
BIRTHDAY BOY: A good 42nd birthday present for Phil Mickelson would have been a low round Saturday. Instead, he settled for a 1-over 71 that left him at 8-over 218, nine shots off the lead. Mickelson bogeyed the 18th Saturday, a hole he birdied Friday, after failing to get up and down from the right rough above a greenside bunker. His 7-foot par putt lipped out on the left edge.
A large group of fans around the hole serenaded him with a chorus of “Happy Birthday” despite the miss.
“Yeah, it’s a long, difficult day, even though it’s my birthday,” Mickelson said. “And it was very flattering of the fans, thank you.”
GOING LOW: Casey Wittenberg’s round of 67 Saturday was 10 strokes better than the 77 he posted Friday.
He did so despite opening with a bogey on the difficult first hole. He birdied Nos. 4, 17 and 18 and eagled the 268-yard par-4 seventh — tying for the low round of the championship.
“It’s only the fourth time I’ve ever played the golf course, so I feel like I’m learning day by day where you can play from and where you can’t play from,” Wittenberg said.
He said it made a difference teeing off so early, when the greens were fairly receptive.
“By the time Tiger and those guys tee off, I think it’s going to be a brick,” Wittenberg said.
Wittenberg, a Nationwide Tour player who went through sectional qualifying, is playing in his fifth U.S. Open. He missed the cuts the last three times.
CELEBRITY WATCH: Jerry Rice, Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers were among the current and former NFL players checking out the action at The Olympic Club this week. Ditto for Fred Couples, who watched Tiger Woods’ round Friday.