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Webb Simpson rallies to win U.S. Open

SAN FRANCISCO — Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open and put two more names into the graveyard of champions.

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Overlooked for so much of the week, Simpson emerged on a fog-filled Sunday at the Olympic Club with four birdies around the turn and a tough chip out of a hole to the right of the 18th green that he converted into par for 2-under 68.

He finished 1-over 281, and it was enough to outlast former U.S. Open champions Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell.

Furyk bogeyed two of his last three holes. McDowell had a 25-foot birdie on the 18th to force a playoff, but the putt never had a chance and slid well left.

"Oh, wow," Simpson said, watching from the locker room as he clinched his first major.

Olympic is the "graveyard of champions" because proven major winners keep losing U.S. Opens to underdogs. One of those losing favorites was Arnold Palmer, who squandered a seven-shot lead on the back nine in 1966 before losing a playoff to Billy Casper.

Perhaps it's fitting that Simpson, 25, went to Wake Forest on an Arnold Palmer scholarship.

"Arnold has been so good to me," Simpson said. "Just the other day, I read that story and thought about it. He's meant so much to me and Wake Forest. Hopefully, I can get a little back for him and make him smile."

Furyk was in control for much of the final round until he snap-hooked his tee shot on the par-5 16th hole to fall out of the lead for the first time all day.

Needing birdie on the final hole, he hit his approach into a greenside bunker. He crouched and clamped his teeth onto the shaft of his wedge. Furyk bogeyed and closed with 4-over 74, without a single birdie.

McDowell, who made four bogeys on the front nine, gave himself a chance with a 20-foot birdie on the 17th and a shot into the 18th that had him sprinting up the hill to see what kind of chance he had. When the putt missed, he settled for 73.

"I know what kind of players they are, both have won majors," Simpson told NBC during the trophy ceremony. "I thought even though Graeme had a 25-footer, he was probably going to hit the hole or have a good chance."

McDowell shared second with Michael Thompson, who closed with 67 and waited two hours to see if it would be good enough.

Tiger Woods, starting five shots behind, played the first six holes in 6-over par and was never a factor. He shot 73 and finished six strokes back.

Furyk was fuming, mostly at himself, for blowing a chance at his second Open title. He also was surprised that the USGA moved the tee up 100 yards on No. 16 to play 569 yards. It was reachable in two shots for some players, though the shape of the hole featured a sharp turn to the left.

"There's no way when we play our practice rounds you're going to hit a shot from a tee 100 yards up unless someone tells you," Furyk said. "But the rest of the field had that same shot to hit today, and I'm pretty sure no one hit as (bad) a shot as I did. I have no one to blame but myself."

But he gave Simpson his due.

Of the last 18 players to tee off, Simpson was the only one to break par. That didn't seem likely when he was six shots behind as he headed to the sixth hole, the toughest at Olympic. That's where he started his big run.

His 7-iron landed in the rough and rolled 5 feet away for birdie. He birdied the next two holes, including a 15-footer on the par-3 No. 8. And his wedge into the 10th settled 3 feet away.

"It was a cool day," Simpson said. "I had a peace all day. I knew it was a tough golf course. I probably prayed more the last three holes than I ever did in my life."

Simpson's shot from the rough on the 18th went just right of the green and disappeared into a hole, a circle of dirt about the size of a sprinkler cap. With a clump of grass behind the ball, he had a bold stroke and it came out perfectly, rolling 3 feet by the hole for his much-needed par.

Then, it was time to wait.

His wife, Dowd, who is expecting the couple's second child, joined him afterward and they watched McDowell's final putt together, both looking stunned that Simpson had just won.

"I needed her here with me because I never felt nerves like I did today," said Simpson, who was composed throughout the trophy ceremony despite being interrupted by a man who ran into the TV camera shot and made a loud squawk before being led away. "A lot of times I kind of had to hit my legs because I couldn't really feel them."

Webb Simpson rallies to win U.S. Open 06/18/12 [Last modified: Monday, June 18, 2012 1:23am]
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