Webb Simpson was hardly a favorite coming into the U.S. Open. Once he was six shots off the pace after 36 holes, he even became an afterthought.
But when it comes to the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, apparently that’s exactly right where you want to be.
Simpson became the latest underdog story to triumph at the Lake Course, firing a 2-under-par 68 in the final round Sunday to finish with a total of 1-over 281, winning the U.S. Open by a single shot over Graeme McDowell and Michael Thompson.
Simpson’s name now is part of the lore of unlikely Open winners at Olympic that includes Jack Fleck, Billy Casper, Scott Simpson and Lee Janzen.
“You know, this is only my second U.S. Open and so I told myself don’t get too excited, don’t try to win,” said Simpson, who entered the week with two PGA Tour wins to his name and ranked No. 14 in the world. “You’ve got to go out there ask try to make pars, and that’s what I did.”
Simpson, who has won two PGA Tour events and is ranked No. 14 in the world, becomes the ninth straight first-time major championship winner and the 15th different winner in the past 15 majors.
His final round got off to a rocky start, as they tend to do at the rugged Lake Course, and he was 2-over on the day after his first five holes. But Simpson reeled off birdies in four of his next five holes and despite admittedly feeling the pressure of being in the thick of a major championship, carded par after par down the stretch.
“I couldn’t feel my legs most of the back nine,” the 26-year-old from North Carolina said.
Like most of the final groupings, McDowell and Jim Furyk, who shared the lead entering the final day at 1-under, struggled on Sunday. McDowell carded a 73, while Furyk tallied a 74 and wound up in a five-way tie for fourth.
Furyk came to the tee at the 16th hole tied with Simpson at 1-over, but he hooked a tee shot into the trees which led to a bogey and another bogey on the 18th capped off a disappointing day for a player who had been one of the most consistent all week.
“It was, on that back nine, it was my tournament to win and I felt like if went out there and shot even par, 1 under, I would have distanced myself from the field and I wasn’t able to do so, said Furyk, who won the 2003 U.S. Open.
Despite his struggles, McDowell surged at the end with a birdie at No. 17 and had a 25-foot birdie putt slide past the cup on the 18th hole which would have forced an 18-hole playoff.
“It was a nice opportunity, one that I would obviously desperately love to have holed,” said McDowell, who won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
As for Simpson, it was almost too good to be true when the putt rolled past.
“When Graeme missed on 18 and I realized I had won, I just kind of shook my head in disbelief,” Simpson said. “I couldn’t believe it actually happened.”