The 120th US Open will not so much go down in memory, rather more infamy.
In the tournament’s sixth return to Winged Foot in New York, its was Bryson DeChambeau‘s rather unpopular methods that won out after four days and 72 holes that truly split the field in two – and in some cases far, far more
Known in golfing circles as ‘The Scientist’, the 27-year-old Californian has returned from lockdown a more refined, slimline player and as he showed glimpses of in the US PGA Championship last month, there is more to DeChambeau than just power. There is brawn too.
Winged Foot was the culmination of the American’s remarkable, almost crash-course resurgence in the game.
It was a case of last man standing again in New York, as similarly to the last time the West course hosted the tournament 14 years ago, DeChambeau was left king of the hill.
Back in 2006 when Colin Montgomerie famously surrendered his best chance of one of the big four titles, the Scot was not alone in a spectacular final-hole calamity, as both Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk left Geoff Ogilvy to mop up the pieces.
Though DeChambeau’s pre-tournament words that he was simply ‘going to hit the ball as hard as he could’ would have done little to curry favour with his many critics, few however, can argue with his results this weekend.
Before 2020, the player – perhaps much like former champion Gary Woodland – was deemed not up to the task of claiming the USGA’s most prized trophy.
But despite playing a driver off almost every tee, it was DeChambeau who left his many detractors eating humble pie.
Wolff emerges from pack
Aside from DeChambeau’s maiden victory, Winged Foot saw the rise of Matthew Wolff, a player who has crept onto the radar in the past two years.
Leading into the final round by two shots as the American did, to relinquish his grip on the trophy as debutante no less, could irk the former NCAA champion for some time.
The 21-year-old Californian who won the 3M Open in Minnesota 14 months ago, could however, be forgiven for falling by the way side of Winged Foot’s severe examination. Bigger names have fallen victim to last-round collapses.
But will Wolff be a contender again? The consensus suggests yes after storming through the field on Saturday to shoot a 65, but as a name now to watch, the pressure will only grow on his young shoulders from hereon in.
Big names tumble
It was no surprise Winged Foot again took no prisoners given its’ reputation as one of the toughest courses around, but few expected the biggest names in golf to fall like dominoes in the fashion they did.
On a course ranked the eighth best in the US, the New York environs made fools of the best players in the game once more, in a multitude of conditions across the four days.
In a US Open that saw no less than 12 former major winners fail to even make the cut – not least the defending Woodland – the famed Westchester course once more proved the graveyard of champions.
Though the focus for Tiger Woods was always going to be August in November as he defends the green jacket, last year’s open champion Shane Lowry finished 15 shots over par also. All three failed to progress to the weekend.
Of those that did make the halfway dissection of the field, Bubba Watson, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed – who led after round two – Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas – leader after 18 holes – and world number one Dustin Johnson, all trailed the eventual winner by a remarkable gap of 11-plus shots.
Major golf as it should be
This particular edition of the tournament will have left many a player with sleepless nights, but any criticisms of the sheer gradient of difficulty of Winged Foot are surely wide of the mark, a major competition venue, as it is.
A six-shot margin of victory might suggest a romp to victory, however the story was anything but straightforward.
Though three winners have all finished over par since 2013 (Webb Simpson, Justin Rose and Brooks Koepka), few tournaments have left the field hacking away in the rough so helplessly.
In tandem with ‘the cabbage’, Winged Foot’s putting surfaces resembled something of an ice rink, not bringing into account its’ undulating, cauldron-like contours.
A major headache for players involved, as a spectacle however, made for captivating viewing, seeing the very best made to look like amateurs in comparison.
Some might say this did not truly prove who the best player in the game is right now, but major golf often brings surprises.
Winged Foot was a level playing field for all; indeed, ‘levelling’ was the key word for the championship.
Mcllroy flounder continues
Returning to the issue of an increasingly frustrated McIlroy, during an opening two rounds that suggested the four-time major champion could challenge for number five, it was again a case of weekend disappointment for the Northern Irishman.
Left very much in the picture after his opening 18 holes, the 31-year-old battled Friday’s hostile conditions and scrap to a position just four shots off the lead.
But as the week concluded, despite his T8 finish, a mammoth 12 shots separated McIlroy from the top of the standings.
There is no disputing McIlroy’s ability. A US champion at Congressional nine years ago and a player who continues to frequently picks up wins on the PGA Tour, his now six-year major drought alas, is becoming not only a worry but a sizeable embarrassment.
When golf reunites for third and final major of surely the most infamous year in recent memory, McIlroy has will play his 23rd tournament since his last win in a Masters, he is yet to win.
Will the driving force of the career gland-slam spur him on to finally end his drought, or will Augusta simply prove the undoing of McIlroy once more?
The 2020 US Masters takes place at Augusta National in Atlanta, Georgia, in November.
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