2016 US Open: Dustin Johnson wins his first major amid rules controversy

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Rules controversy threatened to turn the US Open into a farce; in the end it didn’t matter as Dustin Johnson stormed to victory.

Dustin Johnson in contention at a major? Golf fans knew this was going to be interesting to watch if previous form was anything to go by, but few would have predicted the drama that unfolded on Sunday at Oakmont.

And this time it was the rules of golf, specifically those that oversee them that were firmly in the spotlight and steered a course towards the farcial finish of the 2016 US Open.

Ultimately, the one-stroke penalty Johnson was handed after he walked off the golf course mattered little. His emphatic three stroke victory meant that the rules controversy didn’t alter the result much to the relief of everyone, particularly Johnson and the USGA.

After so much heart-break for Johnson at the majors-  including the US PGA “bunkergate” controversy of 2010 and that three-putt at Chambers Bay last year – the 31-year-old has finally realised his phenomenal golfing talent and secured a major victory.

Clearly the best golfer at Oakmont, it’s hard not to wonder if the shackles are now off Johnson who is one of the most athletic golfers ever to grace the fairways of professional golf.

So after such a dramatic final day, let’s deal with the winner first shall we? (Scroll down if you just want to hear about the controversy).

Dustin Johnson won the 2016 US Open by three shots. Despite the pressure and the memory of past major failures, Johnson held his game together beautifully to leap off the list of “best players never to win a major”.

And he did so as Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood faded from the TV telecast.

“It feels really great,” 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.”

The three shot victory ahead of Jim Furyk, Scott Piercy and Shane Lowry was not only built on his famous driving ability, but his phenomenal ball-striking skills with the lofted clubs.

Admittedly, Johnson gets to use the short irons a little more often than most other golfers because of his prestigious distance off the tee, but his wedge play is underestimated.

You won’t be surprised to hear that Johnson was ranked #1 for driving distance at Oakmont this week, a full 8.5 yards ahead of his nearest rival (Justin Thomas) but he was also ranked #1 from tee to green as well hitting 76% of greens in regulation.

Without doubt the most memorable of those GIRs was his approach to the 18th. With the tournament all but sewn up, any lingering doubts about his ability to close out a major were put to rest with this special shot.

“The club I had, I knew even if I hit it really good, that’s about as far as it was going to go is where it went. I hit it absolutely perfect. So I was definitely very happy to see it that close when I walked up,” Johnson said.

The resulting birdie stamped his authority over this golf tournament and was made even more impressive after Johnson was told he may be penalised a shot after his round for a rules indiscretion on the fifth hole. To put this out of his mind and finish the way he did was clutch. Something Johnson hasn’t always been known for in the past.

“They said they were going to look at it when we got done. I felt like I wasn’t going to be penalized, so I just went about my business,” Johnson said about the rules controversy. “Just focused on the drive on 12 and from there on out, that we’d deal with when we got done.”

The delay in a decision mean that the tournament was threatened to descend into one of the biggest major farces in the history of golf.

Even Tiger Woods agreed.

The farce controversy
Earlier in the day, on the fifth hole, Dustin Johnson was lining up for a short putt for par. He made two practice putts next to his ball and then was about to line up to make the putt when the ball, ever so slightly, rolled backwards.

Now it doesn’t matter how far it rolled backwards, it was the fact that his ball moved at all that had Johnson call for the referee.

After a short discussion, Johnson indicated that he did not ground his club and was allowed to continue playing without a penalty stroke – as it was deemed he did not cause the ball to roll back.

Perhaps because Shane Lowry was penalised in a similar situation on Saturday (although he admitted to grounding his club behind the ball), the USGA informed Dustin Johnson on the 12th tee that the ruling was to be re-assessed after the round, possibly leading to a one-stroke penalty.

And the farce began.

Johnson and his competitors were forced to play the final holes not knowing what his score was going to be, commentators couldn’t say for sure who was in front and golf fans were as confused as anybody – venting their frustrations on Twitter.

And some of Johnson’s colleagues were also angry at the way the situation unfolded, including Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy who were particularly upset at the way it was handled by the USGA.

The galleries clearly, and audibly got behind Johnson through the closing stretch of holes and when Lowry and other rivals faltered, what could have been a particularly messy situation was avoided.

Remarkably, Johnson was still handed the penalty after the round but it mattered little to the result by then.

While this sort of penalty isn’t new – it happens commonly at The Masters for example, where the greens are lightning fast, we do wonder if this may be a tipping point for golf.

It may change the way the USGA deals with potential rules breaches in the future – and maybe even the way golf courses are set-up for golf tournaments with many pointing out this would never have happened if the green speeds weren’t so quick.

More on that later in the week.

The Australians
Jason Day was at his fighting best on Sunday and for half an hour, it seemed Day was ready to pounce on the golf tournament.

A pair of bogeys bookended his opening nine holes and Day looked too far back to have any impact. But an amazing chip-in eagle at the 12th suddenly had the world number one in the golf tournament.

A birdie at the 13th and Day was at 1-under par and a chance to cause some chaos down the stretch. However in an effort to chase eagle, Day just found the greenside bunker with his drive at the short par-4 17th hole. His escape went too far and into another bunker on the far side of the green and he failed to get out with his first attempt. A double-bogey resulted and hopes of an unlikely US Open title were dashed.

Marc Leishman and Adam Scott both finished in a tie for 18th spot at 6-over par. Scott finished poorly with a 4-over par final round, while Leishman will just be left ruing his third round 77 after a 1-under par final round had him leaving Oakmont with his head held high.

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