Dustin Johnson finds redemption, relief with U.S. Open victory at Oakmont

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Dustin-JohnsonWho was not pulling for Dustin Johnson on Sunday as he battled at Oakmont? He had more than his share of heartbreak at major championships, too much actually. His near misses at a pair of U.S. Opens, the British Open and the PGA Championship brought along with them the title “Best Player Not to Win a Major.”

Last year at Chambers Bay, his three-putt on the final hole of the U.S. Open from 12 feet gave that victory to Jordan Spieth. It had to be the most painful. Maybe it was meant to be for Johnson to win on the historic Oakmont Country Club outside of Pittsburgh. Oakmont, which has hosted more U.S. Opens than any other, nine in total, has had so many great champions.

Jack Nicklaus was there Sunday to greet Johnson at the end of his round after his impressive breakthrough major win. In the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont, Nicklaus won the first of his record 18 major championships in an 18-hole playoff over Arnold Palmer. After that first major win, the supremely talented Golden Bear became a legend. Maybe the new U.S. Open champ will follow in those footsteps.

To see Johnson’s wife Paulina there at the end, with son Tatum in tow, this year with tears of joy on Father’s Day was heartwarming. Dustin Johnson is a most deserving champion.

As it goes with Johnson however, nothing seems to come easy. He started the day four strokes behind Ireland’s surprising contender Shane Lowry. Yet, the American started to close in on Lowry early. His day was moving smoothly until the ghosts from majors past reared their ugly head on hole No. 5.

While on the green as he addressed his ball, misfortune struck when the ball slightly wobbled backward. He said while it did move, he felt it did not oscillate. But to be on the safe side, Johnson called a rules official – surely remembering the 2010 PGA Championship when he grounded his club in a fan-stomped bunker costing him the championship at Whistling Straits.

The rules official said there was no penalty. Nothing comes easy for Dustin Johnson on the big stages though.

On the 12th tee, a USGA official came up to him and told him the incident at No. 5 was under further review and may result in a violation. He was likely to incur a one-stroke penalty but the decision would not be final until after the round. You have to admire Johnson for holding it together, having that hanging over his head.

The only two players who had a shot at Johnson faded at the end. Lowry fell victim to a closing 76, with bogeys on three of the last four holes, finishing three shots back. Scott Piercy’s charge on the front nine ended, and a 1-over par on the back nine was solid enough for a 69 on the day.

Johnson, however, proved too much. Both unheralded challengers end up three shots behind Johnson’s winning score of 4-under par that included the penalty stroke from hole No. 5.

Also tied for second was 46-year old 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk, who came in with the low round of the day at 66. Despite the week’s early rains that slowed and softened the USGA’s lightning-fast greens to an extent, Johnson, Lowry, Piercy and Furyk were the only players to break par for the tournament. Players rounding out the top five were Sergio Garcia, now 0 for 71 in the majors, and Brandon Grace.

After the mental roller coaster day that ended with his win, Johnson enjoyed relief.

“Feels well deserved,” Johnson said. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities that I didn’t quite get it done. So this one definitely feels good.”

Jordan Spieth, who knows all too well the potential of golf’s longest drivers of the ball, predicted more Johnson success. At The Memorial Tournament two weeks ago, Spieth said, “I think he’s an incredible talent that’s going to win many more times.”

That was a reference to tournaments in general and not majors, but both could be true.

For this well liked player among his peers who will turn 32 next week, it could bring the kind of confidence that leads to many more special Sunday celebrations.

“It’s a big monkey off my back, for sure,” Johnson said. “After last year to come back this year and perform like this, you know, it definitely, I think it shows what kind of golfer I am and, you know, it was awesome.”

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