Commentary

Simpson survives Open attrition

Updated: June 18, 2012, 2:54 AM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- Olympic Club has so many teeth that it needs to borrow Beau Hossler's braces. It bit into the U.S. Open and its jittery players as if they were corn on the cob.

Webb Simpson won his first major championship Sunday -- if you can call sitting in NBC's Costas Tower watching Jim Furyk crawl in, "winning." Simpson didn't win the U.S. Open as much as he survived it. It might be the only tournament in the world in which you think twice about making the cut.

Furyk, or even 54-hole co-leader Graeme McDowell, could have left San Francisco with the Open title. But McDowell yakked it up on the front nine and Furyk staggered around the final six holes, leaving just enough room for the 26-year-old Simpson to squeeze through.

[+] EnlargeWebb Simpson
Stuart Franklin/Getty ImagesAt one point during his final round, Webb Simpson birdied four out of five holes to get right back into the U.S. Open. He shot a final-round 68 for his first major victory.

"Amazed," said Simpson. "I've got no words."

Furyk knows the feeling. Asked to describe his level of disappointment, he said, "I don't know how to put that one into words. But I had my opportunities and my chances and it was right there."

Here's what this major, this course and the pressures of Sunday did to the usually unflappable Furyk: After his second shot on the par-4 18th landed in a greenside bunker, Furyk dropped into a crouch and tried to take a bite out of his club. Then, with a fried-egg lie, he semi-bladed his bunker shot across the green into more beachside property.

It was painful to watch. Then again, the U.S. Open is into that.

So Simpson, who missed the cut in his past two tournaments, now has his name on the silver trophy. But they ought to find room to engrave Mike Davis on there too. He was as responsible for what happened here as much as anybody.

The USGA's Davis set up the course and made grown pros sprint to their courtesy cars after their rounds. Now that the Open is finished, he'll go back to his day job, which is pulling wings off butterflies and teasing puppies.

Actually, that's not fair. He fulfilled his mandate, which was to make sure Olympic Club wouldn't play dead like Congressional did during last year's Open.

Remember those days of red numbers? Rory McIlroy finished 16-under par and won by 8 strokes. Twenty players finished in the red. It was the Reno-Tahoe Open, but with a bigger merchandise tent.

This year, McIlroy was trunk slamming on Friday. Tiger Woods went from 36-hole tri-leader on Friday to 75-73 on the weekend. He finished T-21, 6 shots behind Simpson.

Afterward, Woods was asked to assess his Olympic Club experience.

"There's a lot of positives this week," he said.

And there were. But there were also lots of missed putts. And a missed majors opportunity. Woods had a legitimate chance to stick a head cover into the mouths of all those who said he couldn't -- and wouldn't -- win another major.

Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson got a 1-over-par 71 for his birthday and then a 78 on Father's Day. The holidays didn't work out for Lefty this year.

"If you played anything less than perfect golf it was extremely penalizing," said Mickelson, who finished at 16-over for the tournament. "And I played far from perfect."

Lee Westwood was in serious contention for his first major, but then a tree ate his tee shot on the fifth hole. And that was that.

Ernie Els, who last won a biggie in 2002 (the Open Championship), was on his way to one of the great Father's Day victories. Could you have imagined what it would have meant to the 42-year-old Els to win his fourth career major and then share it with his young son Ben, who is afflicted with autism?

Instead, heartless Olympic Club let Els work his way into contention through seven holes and then kneecapped him on Nos. 8 and 9. … Let him back in again on the back nine and then whacked him on the last three holes.

Even everybody's favorite high school lug, Hossler, was finally undone by the cumulative effect of Olympic Club. It was bound to happen.

Hossler started the week wanting to be low amateur. Then he started talking about winning the whole thing. He finished with neither, but I do like his chances to score a date at Rancho Santa Margarita High next year. Did I mention I whupped Tiger and Phil at the Open?

Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington was on the brink of tying for the early clubhouse lead with Michael Thompson at 2-over. … And then he bogeyed No. 18. Sigh.

Seven out of 72 players shot sub-par rounds Sunday. Seven.

Attrition is how Simpson ended up with a precious major. Well, that and two perfectly wonderful pair of 68s on the weekend.

He got his championship fair and square, which is to say the Open overpowered everyone else, rather than Simpson overpowering the Open. That's how it works.

Olympic Club and the USGA didn't exact revenge for McIlroy's romp a year ago. It was more like they returned the Open to its rightful place.

As golf's bad-ass.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter