The grandstand rose as one and thunderously roared as the man in red and black drained his final putt for par and a 1-under finish in the U.S. Open on Sunday.
No, Tiger Woods was somewhere other than Pinehurst last week and his absence from his second straight major as he continues to recover from back surgery may have sucked the excitement out of the proceedings, but Erik Compton put the heart into it.
Compton did not win his second start at his national championship; that honor went to wire-to-wire winner Martin Kaymer, who simply dominated the course and the field the way the Missing One has done so many times over his career. Indeed, Kaymer’s stellar 5-under 65 start and refusal to take his foot off his competitors’ necks all week drew nearly infinite comparisons from broadcasters to Woods, who remains sidelined for the indefinite future.
That Compton, making his 100th PGA Tour start, was even playing at Pinehurst was something of a miracle, given that he almost died in 2007 when the first of his two transplanted hearts started to fail. Pinehurst was his second major championship; he missed the cut at Pebble Beach in 2010.
"To be in the mix at the U.S. Open, it's a dream come true," Compton told reporters on Saturday after matching Rickie Fowler’s low round of the day, a 3-under 67 on a course the USGA set up to be so demanding that players were calling it borderline unfair.
Compton has battled his way out of far worse predicaments than slick, domed greens that dared golfers to go flag-hunting.
"I have been through a lot in my life ... a lot more adrenaline pressure situations than hitting a tee shot on 18. Putting things in perspective may help me," he said on Saturday, as players all around him were whining about the conditions.
"I think it teeters on unplayable," Matt Kuchar complained after carding a third-round 1-over 71.
But Compton was not about to let some fiery, turtlebacked greens beat him, and he went back out Sunday and not only tied Fowler for Phil Mickelson’s traditional runner-up spot, he played himself into a certain little tournament in Augusta in April.
"I was playing for second; I think we all were playing for second," he told NBC Sunday night after posting a final-round 72 and finishing as only one of three players with week-long totals in the red. "Now you just told me I got into the Masters ... This is just a career-opening thing for me to be able to put myself on the map.
"I’m not just the guy with two heart transplants," an emotional Compton said about the storybook ending to his fantastic week.