Monday, June 18, 2012

A Golden Age For Golf

By Angus Saul

Webb Simpson is the U.S. Open Champion. For a little while, it looked as though the Northern Irish would cling on to it for a third successive year, as Graeme McDowell looked strong going into the last few holes, but after a mixed round of 73, he falters and takes only a par on the final hole to gift Webb his first major title.

Golf seems to be wide-open at the moment. This win makes Webb the ninth consecutive first-time champion at a major since Phil Mickelson's Masters triumph in 2010, and the 15th different major winner in a row. Can't anyone win another?

So does this mean golf is in a sorry state? Well, some may argue it does — there is no outstanding individual capable of dominating. Others might argue it makes it more interesting, as anyone is in with a chance.

I'm inclined to agree with those of the second opinion. The final day was enthralling, as one shot here or there made all the difference. Simpson, with an earlier tee-off time, shot an impressive 2-under-par 68 to set the target of 1 over.

He had started the day four shots behind leaders McDowell and Jim Furyk, but four birdies in five holes at the tail end of the front nine put him in with a real shout. Furyk and McDowell played a poor final day, scoring 74 and 73 respectively.

They were still in with a shout on the 18th, where a birdie from either would have forced a play-off. Furyk hit a bunker and finished off with a bogey, and McDowell missed a 24 yard putt for birdie, finishing up on a solid par. It won't be much consolidation though, considering he'd been joint leader on the final day. And he's won it before.

Simpson is now the third American major winner in a row, spelling good news for the Ryder Cup team this September. Better for them, it will be a home match this time around, as the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, IL hosts the event for the first time.

Simpson will not be looking at the Ryder Cup for the moment, though, and will have his eyes fixed on the Open Championships next month. Will he win it? I have my doubts. Though he showed a lot of quality in his U.S. Open victory, a longer and potentially easier links course at the Royal Lytham & St. Anne's Golf Club in Lancashire, England could see more competitors joining the fray.

Last time the Open was played here saw David Duval win his first major with a 10 under par, 274. Before that was Tom Lehman, where he won his first major, too. So it doesn't bode well for Simpson that of the 10 times the Open has been held at the Royal Lytham, there have been six first-time winners of majors. And one of those winners won it twice.

He will be facing very stiff opposition. Padraig Harrington of Ireland matched Simpson's final day score of 68, only to finish tied third after bogeying on the last hole. He's regained a lot of his form recently, and will be looking to add to his tally of three majors.

Graeme McDowell, who had victory in his sights on the final day, is playing better than he has in nearly two years. He has that steely glint in his eyes that says, "I am back." He didn't take home the U.S. Open trophy for the second time, but he will be looking to take home the British Open trophy next month.

With Simpson's win, and McDowell and Harrington returning to form, golf just got a little more interesting. It might not be a golden age yet, but if this year's U.S. Open mesmerizing finish is anything to go by, one is fast approaching.

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