Sunday was a very good day for Dustin Johnson, but it could have been really, really bad.
Johnson finally shed the tag of one of the best golfers to not win a major by winning the 116th U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh. Johnson trailed Shane Lowry by four strokes to start the final round, but he fired a 1-under 69 to win his first major.
For Johnson, it’s obviously a career-changing win with a celebration to follow, but it’s a win that’s made even more special by his near-misses in past majors. Most recently, Johnson three-putted from 15 feet on the 18th last year, opening the door for Jordan Spieth to take home the U.S. Open title. There was also the 2010 PGA Championship, in which Johnson looked primed for a three-way playoff before being assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker.
Another rules snafu could have cost Johnson in a big way Sunday at Oakmont.
The controversy began at the fifth hole. As Johnson lined up his par putt, the ball moved ever so slightly.
Johnson called over a rules official, explaining that he didn’t think he did anything to cause the ball to move. Officials allowed Johnson to finish the hole without penalty.
Not long after, however, things became real interesting. At the 12th hole, officials informed Johnson the incident actually would be reviewed, meaning Johnson needed to finish his round amid uncertainty that a one-stroke penalty might be assessed.
USGA senior director of rules and open championships Jeff Hall appeared during the telecast on FOX to try to explain the situation in an interview that could best be described as awkward. Hall could offer no real good answers other than “We’re looking at it,” as the situation caused a stir among some of the game’s best players who already had finished their tournament.
Ultimately, officials judged Johnson to be guilty and handed him a one-stroke penalty. Fortunately for Johnson, he played well down the stretch, as Lowry fell apart.
Lowry bogeyed three of the final five holes, shooting a six-over 76. Even with the penalty, Johnson edged out Lowry and two others by three strokes.
Thankfully, it played out the way it did for Johnson, as losing another major tournament in such a controversial manner would have been devastating … again.
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