Dustin Johnson survived a farcical climax to the US Open to win his first major title as Ireland’s Shane Lowry let slip a four-shot lead at Oakmont.
Johnson carded a closing 69 to finish four under par, but only after belatedly being given a one-shot penalty following an incident which left players, officials and spectators unsure of his score with just seven holes to play.
The world number six began the final round four shots behind Lowry, but moved two clear of the field with birdies on the second and ninth coupled with four bogeys in the first 10 holes from Lowry.
However, the 31-year-old was then told on the 12th tee that officials would be reviewing an incident on the fifth hole, bringing back memories of his nightmare finish to the 2010 US PGA when a two-shot penalty for grounding his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole cost him a place in the play-off.
Johnson had seen his ball move fractionally as he lined up a par putt, but called in the referee walking with his group and was initially cleared of any wrongdoing before holing out for par.
The news that Johnson had been informed of the post-round review was widely criticised, with four-time major winner Rory McIlroy writing on Twitter: “This is ridiculous… No penalty whatsoever for DJ. Let the guy play without this crap in his head. Amateur hour from @USGA.”
And defending champion Jordan Spieth added: “Lemme get this straight.. DJ doesn’t address it. It’s ruled that he didn’t cause it to move. Now you tell him he may have? Now? This a joke?”
Double US Open champion Curtis Strange, commentating for Fox Sports, added: “What other sport do you wait until the end to make the ruling? This is ridiculous in my opinion.”
Johnson was eventually given a one-shot penalty but still finished three shots clear of Lowry – who struggled to a disappointing 76 – Scott Piercy and former champion Jim Furyk.
"The shot of his life!"— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 20, 2016
Mic drop from Dustin Johnson. https://t.co/IjYf5K6Umh
Sergio Garcia finished a shot further back alongside South Africa’s Branden Grace after carding three birdies in succession from the 14th.
Johnson, who three-putted the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay last year to finish a shot behind Jordan Spieth, had got on level terms with a birdie on the ninth and found himself in the outright lead when Lowry bogeyed the same hole after finding sand off the tee.
He then enjoyed an enormous stroke of luck when he pulled his drive on the 10th into thick rough, but was allowed to take a free drop into the first cut due to a television tower being between him and the green.
Lowry’s three-putt bogey on the 10th left Johnson two shots clear, but amid the confusion over the possible penalty, Lowry reduced the deficit with a tap-in birdie on the 12th.
Johnson three-putted the 14th to drop back into – for the time being at least – a tie with Lowry, only for the Irishman to do exactly the same in the group behind and then make the same mistake on the 15th and 16th as well.
With Piercy dropping a shot on the 18th, Johnson had a vital three-shot cushion but made absolutely certain thanks to a stunning approach to the 18th and holing from five feet for birdie.
McIlroy hasn’t missed qualifying for a major tournament since 2013 when he bit it at Muirfield’s Open Championship of 2013.
So what happened? It was at the third hole when Mcilroy took four putts from 12 feet out to double bogey and he just couldn’t pick it up from there.
Former world number one Adam Scott is hoping the weather forecast proves spot on so he can adopt a more aggressive approach than many of his US Open rivals.
Rain is predicted for Thursday’s first round at Oakmont, where tournament officials felt moved to cut the rough after conceding that it was “too penal” when combined with “legendarily fast” greens.
Such conditions have prompted the likes of Jason Day and Rory McIlroy to plot a somewhat conservative game plan, but Scott is hoping the rain will help him challenge for a second major title.
“I was here a week and a half ago and it was playing nice and firm,” said the 2013 Masters champion, who finished fourth at Chambers Bay last year after a closing 64.
“It rained a lot that night and I played the next day with Rory and both of us probably made five or six birdies each that day, playing really nicely. The greens become receptive. The fairways become slightly wider because a ball down the edge of the fairway doesn’t run out into the rough. Even though it may play longer, I think it will play much easier if it rains. I think you’ve got to challenge this golf course.
“You look at the field, you look at the quality of players and how well a lot of the top players are playing and it’s going to be a very, very difficult golf course to lay back and execute perfectly all week.
“The greens are just so severe that coming in with a longer club all the time is probably going to catch up with you. And I feel like if any of the top guys play well, you’re at a disadvantage if you’re plodding your way around. That doesn’t necessarily mean attack. You’ve got to be a little bit smart, of course, but I think my plan certainly is to challenge this golf course this week.”
How Scott copes with greens running above 14 on the stimpmeter remains to be seen, although the 35-year-old did win back-to-back tournaments earlier this season having been forced to revert to a regular putter following the ban on anchored strokes.
And he added: “If you get crazy putts, enjoy the challenge of it. Do whatever you have to do to fool yourself that it’s not do or die and have some fun. Stay calm. It’s going to be the same for everybody.”