PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Graeme McDowell was clinging to a two-shot lead at Pebble Beach on Sunday, five holes away from becoming the first European to win the U.S. Open in 40 years.
On a wild day that included Tiger Woods making four bogeys on the front and third-round leader Dustin Johnson throwing away a three-shot advantage in the span of four holes, McDowell was holding it together. The Irishman made one birdie and two bogeys over the first 13 holes to reach the 14th at 2-under par – two shots ahead of Frenchman Gregory Havret, the 391st-ranked player in the world.
Another stroke behind was Ernie Els, seeking his fourth major title and first since 2002.
Phil Mickelson was also hanging around – at 2 over through 14. But Woods, who shot 66 on Saturday to move into third place, was falling out of contention and running out of time, at 4 over with five holes to play.
Nobody fell more quickly, though, than Johnson.
The winner of the last two AT&T National Pro-Ams at Pebble Beach played the first seven holes, traditionally the easiest stretch at Pebble Beach, at 7-over par. He conjured memories of Gil Morgan, who in 1992 at Pebble famously became the first person to reach 10-under par in the history of the U.S. Open, but shot a closing-round 81 to finish 13th.
Johnson’s troubles began when he hit his approach shot into an awkward lie in a bunker on No. 2, then had to chip out left-handed. The ball barely squirted out, then Johnson’s fourth shot from the deep grass popped up and moved about two feet. He missed a 3-foot putt for double bogey and wound up with a 7. It was part of a triple-bogey, double-bogey, bogey stretch that sent him from 6 under to 1 over in the span of seven holes.
Johnson shored up his game on the back but was at 3 over, five shots behind McDowell in the final group.
Johnson’s disintegration was part of a wild start to the day for the leaders, who are set to reach 18 right around prime time on the East Coast.
Woods opened with a three-putt bogey, then made another on the par-5 sixth hole – the easiest hole on the course – when he drove his tee shot into the ocean. He then went birdie-bogey on 7 and 8, and lost two more shots on the back.
Davis Love III tried to get back in the hunt, attacking the first eight holes and making a birdie and eagle to briefly get to 1 over. But he made two bogeys on the back.
McDowell, meanwhile, was showing little signs of fading as he neared the closing holes in search of his first major championship. The 30-year-old Irishman is trying to become the first European to win the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970.
The day yielded the second double-eagle in the history of the U.S. Open, when Shaun Micheel hit a 3-iron from 239 yards into the hole on the par-5 sixth. He joined T.C. Chen in the history books, then promptly went to the 92-yard seventh hole and made double-bogey 5.
The best rounds of the day through the early going belonged to Ben Curtis and Jim Herman, each of whom went out early and shot 3-under 68.
“It’s always frustrating not to play well until the last day, but you’ll take it whenever you can,” said Curtis, who finished 7 over.
Tom Watson played what might have been his final round at the U.S. Open. The 60-year-old, a heartbreaking runner-up last year at the British Open, missed an 18-inch birdie putt on No. 18 to finish the day at 76. He was 11 over for the tournament and likely would need to win the U.S. Senior Open next month to get an invite to next year’s U.S. Open at Congressional.