After 40 years European golf can at last boast another US Open champion. Graeme McDowell ended the long wait in a final round of at times excruitiating drama here last night to join Tony Jacklin in an exclusive club.
They call America’s national championship the game’s toughest major and how it lived up to its billing. At the climax of a brutal day when Dustin Johnson, the overnight leader, shot a humiliating 82, McDowell was the last man standing. His 74 for a level par total was good enough for a one-stroke victory. And after so many failures in the last four decades, Europe could even celebrate a one-two.
Gregory Havret, the French qualifier, was McDowell’s nearest pursuer, his 72 falling just short. However, the player ranked 390 in the world had so much of which to be proud. Havret partnered Tiger Woods and outscored the world No 1 by three shots. Woods finished in a tie for fourth alongside his nemesis Phil Mickelson and one behind Ernie Els in third.
It was a star-studded leaderboard which only made McDowell’s success so much more impressive. He began the afternoon three back but after Johnson took a triple bogey on the second and a double bogey on the third he grabbed the lead. From there McDowell coolly held it for the next 15 holes despite the close attention of Els and Havret and despite a course which caused carnage as it dried out.
At the Wales Open two weeks ago, McDowell proved what a dogged front-runner he is and the formative days he spent playing on the rugged coastline of Royal Portrush was also to stand him good stead. Yet his glory was not sealed until the very last hole and the very last putt.
Havret missed a seven-footer on the birdie on the par-five 18th, allowing McDowell to lay up. When he holed the winning two-footer he punched the air and looked to the heavens. Soon the 30-year-old was hugging his caddie, Kenny Comboy and then his father, Kenny, who ran on to the green leaping up and down like a little schoolboy.
"I've dreamed of this all my life, two putts to win the US Open,“ he said. “Words can't explain how I'm feeling right now. I said before the final round that if the golfing gods were smiling on me I could win this thing - and they did.
“If I've got my time zones right it will be around 2.30 back home, and I'd bet there will be a few pints of Guinness being sunk in celebration. I'm sure they would have extended the opening times by a few hours."
Indeed, there was so much to raise a glass to, not least that he is on the list of Pebble Beach champions which reads: Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Tiger Woods. McDowell just the second player from Northern Ireland to win a major, and the first in more than six decades following Fred Daly’s triumph at Hoylake in 1947. He is now a member of an elite set of modern-day pros, too, joining fellow Irishman Padraig Harrington and Scotland’s Paul Lawrie as the only other European major-winners playing competitively.
As well as his status, McDowell’s world ranking has also rocketed. He is up to 13th. Not forgetting the little matter of a near £1m winning cheque, there is a second Ryder Cup appearance for which to look forward. McDowell is a certainty to make Colin Montgomerie’s team and will not be requiring a wildcard. Everything has changed for the erudite engineer graduate.?Tonight he will appear on the Jay Leno Show.
“I never imagined this would happen this week,” said McDowell, who only just scraped into the tournament on the world rankings. “I did feel I was ready and I’m proud how calm and how discipline I managed to stay. This hasn’t sunk in yet. I can’t believe that no matter what happens I’ll always have major champion written after my name. Careers are defined by majors and mine has just begun”