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Webb Simpson joins list of unlikely U.S. Open winners

Webb Simpshoists trophy after winning U.S. Open Sunday. “I was peace all day.” | Charlie Riedel~AP

Webb Simpson hoists the trophy after winning the U.S. Open on Sunday. “I was at peace all day.” | Charlie Riedel~AP

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Winner: Webb Simpson, who shot his second consecutive 2-under 68 to finish at 1-over 281 and beat Graeme McDowell and Michael Thompson by a stroke.

Close call: McDowell and Jim Furyk had chances to tie with birdies on the final hole, but McDowell made par and Furyk had a bogey.

Major winner: It was the first major title for Simpson.

Where’s Tiger: Tiger Woods finished six shots back, tied for 21st after shooting a 73. He was tied for the lead going into the weekend.

Teenage sensation: Beau ­Hossler, 17, had his worst round of the tournament, a 76, and finished at 289, two shots behind low amateur Jordan Spieth.

Notable: Woods has gone four years without winning a major championship. His last was the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008, the 14th of his career, four behind Jack Nicklaus.

Quoteable: “I’m sure my disappointment is not as much as his disappointment is right now, but we’re both very disappointed” — Graeme McDowell, on Jim Furyk and himself


Updated: July 19, 2012 6:24AM

SAN FRANCISCO — The four previous U.S. Opens played at the Olympic Club have not been kind to the big-name guys who held the lead. Why would this year be any different?

Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Payne Stewart all came away disappointed from this foggy, hilly layout with its slanting fairways and slippery greens, surprised by Jack Fleck, Billy Casper, Scott Simpson and Lee Janzen.

This year was more of the same.

Add Jim Furyk to the list. On the verge of adding the second U.S. Open title that would have elevated his golf legacy considerably, Furyk joined Hogan, Palmer, Watson and Stewart instead.

And Webb Simpson, 26, a North Carolina native who coincidentally was an Arnold Palmer Scholar at Wake Forest, stepped up and joined the unlikely list of U.S. Open winners at the Olympic Club.

Simpson shot 68 on Sunday, the same number he put up Saturday, to continue a major-championship trend. The last 15 majors have been won by 15 different golfers.

Simpson finished at 1 over, one shot ahead of Graeme McDowell (73) and Michael Thompson (67) and two shots ahead of Furyk (74), who bogeyed three of the last six holes, and four others.

“It was a cool day,’’ Simpson said. “I was at peace all day. I knew it was a tough golf course; it wasn’t going to yield many birdies. I knew I had to go out and do as well as I could. I probably prayed more on those last three holes than I’ve done in my life. And that probably helped me stay calm.’’

Simpson made his move with four birdies in five holes, at Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 10.

“That was an accident,’’ Simpson said of the birdie on No. 10. “We were trying to go 15 feet left of the hole, and it came out right. Luckily, the distance was prefect.’’

That’s what wins U.S. Opens.

It was a wrenching defeat for Furyk, who was able to cling to a one-shot lead most of the day.

“I don’t know how to put that one into words,’’ Furyk said. “I had my opportunities. It was right there. On that back nine, it was my tournament to win. If I shot even par, I would have distanced myself from the field, and I wasn’t able to do so.’’

After driving the ball in the left rough on No. 12, Furyk seemingly caught a break, a palatable lie free from trees. But an unsatisfactory swing put the ball in the right front trap and left Furyk flailing his club in anger and frustration after the shot.

Still, Furyk responded with a clutch 35-foot par-saving putt that kept him one shot ahead of Simpson.

When Furyk bogeyed the par-three 13th, though, he and Simpson were tied for the lead. Then Furyk snap-hooked his drive on the 670-yard 16th hole, a rare mistake by a steady player.

That gave Simpson the one-shot lead that made him a U.S. Open champion.

Simpson, a North Carolina native who picked up his two PGA tour wins late last season, seemed an unlikely championship candidate at the start of the tournament.

But he showed the kind of grit that the U.S. Open requires, hanging around for four rounds when better-known players were faltering.

Simpson and his wife, Dowd, who’s seven months pregnant, stayed in downtown San Francisco, enjoying their first time away from their 16-month-old son before Dowd needs to prepare for the birth of their second child.

Even after shooting a third-round 68, Simpson seemed lost on a crowded leaderboard in which 15 players were within five shots of co-leaders Furyk and McDowell. But he knew what he had accomplished.

“At a U.S. Open, to shoot under par, you have to have things go your way,’’ Simpson said. “That’s what happened [Saturday]. I feel like I shot 10 under and I shot 2 under. Just a good feeling to shoot under par in the U.S. Open.’’

Then, amazingly, Simpson put up another 68 on Sunday and waited to see what would happen.

What happened was the Olympic Club kept its record a perfect 5-for-5 in snatching victory from a player who seemed poised to win and giving it an unlikely champion.

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