The final round of the U.S. Open was thrown into an almost farcical state of confusion on Sunday over a penalty controversy but Dustin Johnson made it a moot question by rolling to victory by three strokes.
U.S. Golf Association (USGA) officials raised the question at the 12th hole of whether leader Dustin Johnson would or would not be hit with a one-stroke penalty for making his ball move on the fifth green despite a ruling on site that he was not at fault.
With Johnson leading by just one stroke for much of the back nine, the state of the competition was an open question until Johnson stretched his lead to four strokes at the end, crowning his first major victory with a birdie at the 18th.
He later was docked a stroke over the controversial play on the fifth hole, and his official score was amended to 69 for a four-under total of 276, with Americans Jim Furyk and Scott Piercy and Irishman Shane Lowry equal second on one-under.
When the subject of the penalty was raised in an interview at the trophy ceremony, the crowd around the 18th green booed lustily.
“It’s something they said, ‘We’re going to look at when you’re done’,” Johnson said about receiving the notice from a USGA official at the 12th hole.
“So I just tried to focus on what I was doing and not worry about the penalty stroke, and just playing golf from there to the house.”
Johnson held firm, while his pursuers wobbled down the stretch and the long-hitting American capped off his first major championship victory with a brilliant approach shot that enabled him to post only the second birdie of the day at the 18th.
“It was a very nice way to finish. Maybe one of the best shots I ever hit, especially under the circumstance,” he said about his six-iron approach. “I was very happy to see I had a little three-footer to finish.”
Johnson’s ball moved ever so slightly on the fifth green as he was preparing to attempt his par putt. He denied having caused the ball to move and the official accompanying the pairing decided not to levy a penalty.
‘Put on notice’
Upon further review of video, officials second-guessed that decision.
“After looking at the video, we have some concerns,” Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director of rules and competitions, explained to FOX TV late in the round. “We put him on notice that, based on what we saw, the actions may lead to a penalty stroke.”
Officials also informed the other golfers on the course that Johnson might be penalised.
This left the contenders in the bizarre situation of having to play the final few holes not knowing how they stood in relation to Johnson.
The USGA handling of the situation drew outraged responses from some high profile players via Twitter.
“Amateur hour from @USGA,” tweeted Rory McIlroy, saying no penalty was warranted.
Added Jordan Spieth: “This is a joke.”
But not to Johnson, who was all business as he finished strong to raise the silver trophy as U.S. Open champion.