PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. » Dustin Johnson exited the scorer’s tent like a man late for his own funeral. I couldn’t survey everyone in the media room to see if he talked to anyone else, but I’m pretty sure I got the only quote as he brushed by on his way to Anywhere Else, U.S.A.
Johnson was greeted by his model-thin girlfriend and maybe a family member or two, but their exchange was brief. The man who blew the U.S. Open like no other quickly exited the premises – Road Runner style.
For some reason, he didn’t want to go through his 18 holes and describe what clubs he used at No. 2 for the triple bogey or No. 3 for the double bogey or any of the other six bogeys on his square-filled scorecard. The man who went through his three-shot lead like a kid with a dollar in a candy store was gone with the ocean breezes.
Not even broadcaster Mark Rolfing could snag a quote from the third-round leader.
Before his closing 18, Johnson told NBC that he saw no reason why he couldn’t play the same way he did the first three days. He was confident that the clothes he wore yesterday would look good on TV when he held the U.S. Open trophy high at day’s end.
I began the day with the last pairing of Johnson and eventual winner Graeme McDowell, but after that 7-over start through the opening seven holes, I turned to someone in the crowd who couldn’t see from her vantage point and said, "He’s done." Another patron added, "He was done four holes ago."
Point well made.
Johnson carded one eagle and 11 birdies over his opening 54 holes to sit 6 under for the tournament. After carding an 11-over 82, the only good thing about his 5-over 289 was he managed a top-10 finish and will be invited back next year at Congressional. Johnson doesn’t care where he plays the 2011 U.S. Open, just as long as it’s not Pebble Beach.
Playing partner McDowell somehow ignored Johnson’s bogey-golf start to remain steady and true throughout the opening nine. I wanted to stick around and watch the Irishman navigate his way to his first major win, but a huge roar after Tiger Woods birdied the seventh convinced me to leave that twosome behind for a few holes.
Unfortunately for me, Woods didn’t do much better once I picked up him and eventual second-place finisher Gregory Havret of France. Rolfing was following this pairing and spotted me at the 11th. He walked over and turned off his microphone to make sure we weren’t on national TV and said, "I can’t wait to see what you write about this."
This was one of the more unusual final rounds. If you didn’t card some birdies over the opening seven holes, you pretty much were done the rest of the way. Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, who had their own problems, were another group in front of Woods and the unknown Frenchmen, At the 17th, Havret wore a "Who me?" expression on his face when the crowd applauded his approach to the tee.
"It was surreal," Rolfing said.
That it was, because Woods wasn’t the recipient of the adoration. His final-round 75 left him tied for fourth with Mickelson at 3-over 287, three shots off McDowell’s even-par 284 finish. Most folks knew Woods was done halfway through the back nine. At the 14th, he walked down the fairway with his hands thrust in his pockets, a sure sign he knew his 15th major wouldn’t come here.
Afterward, in an area behind the 18th where Mickelson, Woods, Havret and McDowell did a variety of interviews, a few things rang true. You couldn’t expect to win putting from above the hole, you couldn’t expect to win if you didn’t keep the ball in the fairway and you couldn’t expect to win if you needed to birdie any of the final nine holes.
It was simple as that. The only person missing from the top 10 was Johnson, who didn’t really need to explain what happened. His, "Excuse me" was enough. Or as Golf Week columnist Jeff Rude put it, "That’s more than Ernie Els said."