UNIVERSITY PLACE, WASH. -- The U.S. Open was its typical Sunday slog for much of the afternoon at Chambers Bay, but the final hour burst with dramatic turns and a history-making win. Winning the U.S. Open and Masters in the same year puts Jordan Spieth in a class with Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Ben Hogan. So it was a huge moment in the history and future of the game. Here are 3 things we learned taking in a wild Sunday finish at Chambers Bay.
Jordan Spieth, the golden child
Before Sunday and before another major championship weekend where he settled in on the first page of the leaderboard, Jordan Spieth had won the crowd at Chambers Bay. Tiger Woods suffered several indignities during his short two-day stay, and an unintended one was having to play one group behind Jordan Spieth through the first two rounds.
They were the two players everyone on the grounds wanted to see during their wave of tee times, but for entirely different reasons. Spieth was the must-see American prodigy perfectly molded to appeal to the crowd and audience. Woods was the must-see circus, the floundering 14-time major winner who overwhelmed the game in a way that no one, including Spieth, ever will again. Each time, Spieth would come through and the crowd would shoot up with enthusiasm, even when he made a routine par. Then Woods would come through and the crowd would rise out of obligation, uncomfortably clapping as this burdensome walk for a legend continued.
The roars were always the loudest for Spieth. Even when he made a double bogey to nearly blow a three-shot lead with two holes to play, the crowd around the 17th stood and roared, encouraging him to 72nd hole of the championship. As he walked up the 18th, a thundering "Spieth! Spieth! Spieth!" chant from the inordinately large grandstands came down. When Dustin Johnson missed that final, excruciating putt, the grandstand produced this terrifying sounding mix of groans and celebratory screams.
At America's national championship, the USA's favorite talent took the title and it was what the crowd wanted.
Rory McIlroy has a rival
Jordan Spieth's record-setting Masters win turned the hype up to 100 and we forgot about Rory McIlroy in the immediate weeks after Augusta. McIlroy was still the No.1 player in the world by a mile, had three more majors, and hit shots on the course that Spieth could only dream about.
As a response, Rory rolled to a WGC-Match Play title and what will be one of the best performances of the year at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte. We were promptly reminded that he was the No. 1 player in the world and its top talent.
McIlroy made a U.S. Open run early on Sunday and the grounds started to buzz as everyone peeled off from watching the final groups on the tee sheet over to the back nine to see if he could complete a record round, breaking Johnny Miller's 63 score at Oakmont. At that point, it was the most manic the property had been all week and the world No. 1 put it in that state. McIlroy still has more talent and his best is going to be better, but Spieth has joined the battle with this win.
Rory stated adamantly at The Players Championship that he did not consider Spieth a rival, or anyone else that had been positioned as such in recent years, citing Rickie Fowler and Tiger as prior examples.
That is no longer the case. Together, McIlroy and Spieth currently hold all four major championships and the No. 1 and 2 spots in the world rankings.
Spieth would not bite on the one-on-one drama after winning his second straight major. "I don't think much of a rivalry," he said. "I've said that from the beginning, I don't think much of a rivalry. Rory has four majors and dozens of wins and I'm just starting out. Again, I'm certainly quite a bit younger than he is. I'm just happy to have this and to be chasing that No. 1 spot which he holds."
It was a diplomatic deferral after a career-changing win. But he's not that much younger, and saying you're chasing what the other guy has is an admission that you want in the game. A year ago, we trudged through an ugly first half of the season and Martin Kaymer ran away at a boring U.S. Open. Tiger was injured and awful, and the game was in a rut with no immediate answers for what was coming next. But after last year's Summer of Rory and this year's Spring of Jordan, there is clarity for the post-Tiger era and it starts with this rivalry.
Dustin Johnson's first putt killed him
There are obviously two memorable prongs to the finish. There's all the hype for the Grand Slam and the USA's next great golfer. And there's the painful ending for the American that may have the most natural talent in the field. Dustin Johnson should have a major win by now, and probably more than one. He's so much better than so many of his peers that it's hard to see him not getting one soon. But he's given it away horribly now on too many occasions.
His three most notable blown chances at the majors came with some heart-wrenching moments. There was the Sunday implosion at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach; the ball bombed out of bounds at Royal St. George's for a double bogey that gave away the British; and there was the rules mishap at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
This was the hardest to watch. Standing on a hill just above the green on line with his birdie putt, my knees buckled as the ball brushed past the cup and the crowd yelped. It was a confusing cocktail of empathy, shock, and celebration for the crowd, media, and USGA officials scrambling around an overcrowded green.
But standing right behind his line, I thought his first putt crushed him and set the stage for that awful miss from 5 feet. The first putt never had a chance. It was way wide of coming close to even touching the edge of the cup.
You could not fault him for being cautious -- he didn't want to have it dive below the hole and way out of range for a comebacker to at least force the playoff. But it was a horribly shaky putt that had to influence how he was feeling moments later over what was already going to be the most intense five-footer of his career.
Johnson is too good not to be back. He's a big part of this incredible transition in the game and this season where the best young players are taking over at the biggest events. He started the day as the favorite, spent most of the back nine as an afterthought, and then popped up over the final two holes with a 12-foot putt to end the whole thing. In my opinion, it did.
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