BETHESDA, Md. – The top eight finishers at the U.S. Open qualify for next year’s Masters, and that’s a big deal for someone like Kevin Chappell.
Chappell was just as hot as Rory McIlroy over the final three rounds of the championship, shooting rounds of 67, 69 and 66. It helped compensate for an opening 76 and lifted him into a tie for third Sunday.
“There’s a lot to soak in,” said Chappell, whose best career finish on the PGA Tour is a second place at this year’s Texas Open. “Hopefully lock up my card for next year, which is also a big relief, and just really try and enjoy it. I played some really good golf the last three rounds, and I really do need to enjoy it.”
Chappell also matched Robert Garrigus as the top American in the field.
“I don’t think the state of American golf is where everyone expects it to be,” Chappell said. “But I think it shows that someone like myself can play out here, and I think it’s definitely going to end up going in the right direction here sometime soon.”
MAYBE IT’S JUST TIGER: Not only it is five straight majors now without an American winner, but the final U.S. Open leaderboard contained few stars and stripes.
“It says, I think, that the Americans struggle a little bit, since Tiger has been on a, how do you say, a little down?” Kaymer said. “Since then nothing has really happened. We’ve just become so much stronger.”
Kaymer also invoked another big name, Padraig Harrington, who won back-to-back majors in 2008.
“I think it started with Padraig, that was the British Open and the PGA,” Kaymer said. “That gave us at least the belief that we can win here in America as well.”
ROCK ROLLS TO A HALT: Robert Rock can finally get some rest.
The Englishman whose visa troubles caused him to arrive at Congressional barely in time to play the U.S. Open actually had a good tournament. He not only made the cut, but he shot a 68 Sunday to finish at 1 over, tied for 23rd.
“It’s going to slow down right now,” Rock said. “My caddie and I are going to have a beer now and chill out before our flight tonight. I’ve got a week off to do very little. There won’t be much practice done, I don’t think.”
Rock was playing his first U.S. Open, and he had never laid eyes on the Blue Course until he was playing the first round on just a few hours of sleep.
“I had better hopes after overcoming the hardest part, which was the first round,” he said. “I’m disappointed because I thought I’d play better golf, but not knowing enough about the place just cost me.”
FROM CHARL TO RORY: As it usually does, the U.S. Open put a quick end to thoughts of a Grand Slam. What was unusual was the surreal scene that played out Sunday involving the last major winner and the newest one.
Masters champ Charl Schwartzel arrived at the 18th green just as Rory McIlroy was getting to the No. 10 tee box across the lake. The holes are close enough so that the galleries often roar as one.
The reception for McIlroy was deafening; Schwartzel waited for it to die down before putting. When McIlroy put his tee shot within a foot of pin on the par 3, the place went nuts.
“That was pretty spectacular there,” Schwartzel said. “I saw him on the tee and I obviously stopped and watched and that was a pretty decent roar that went up there. That was pretty cool to see.”
Schwartzel, by the way, made his putt, celebrating with a fist pump a 15-footer for par that kept his round bogey-free. His 66 put him at 4 under for the championship, a U.S. Open score that often would have been good enough for a Masters champion to make it two majors in a row.
Schwartzel, though, said he began the tournament thinking 10 under would be the winning score.
“I played pretty spectacular today, actually,” he said. “I wish I had four of these.”
Schwartzel and McIlroy will always be linked by what happened at Augusta, when McIlroy blew a four-shot, final-day lead to give the South African the opening to win.
“The way he reacted, the way he handled it afterward, it looked like it was going to be around the corner,” Schwartzel said. “He put it behind him very quickly.”
PHIL’S ALL WET: Phil Mickelson’s U.S. Open ended where it began, in the same body of water.
On his last hole of the championship Sunday, Mickelson stood in a greenside bunker launched a rainbow that splashed on the fly, some 15 feet beyond the other side of the peninsula green. Even the adoring gallery that had cheered so loudly during his walk up the fairway couldn’t help but let out a collective giggle.
After two unsuccessful drops on the steep lakeside slope, he had to place the ball and chip back toward the pin, where he made a 6-footer for double bogey to finish an even par round of 71 and a 7-over total of 291.
“That bunker’s not an easy spot to be in today,” Mickelson said, “and I hit a poor shot on top of it.”
The lake also received Mickelson’s opening shot in his first round on Thursday, when he started on the nearby par 3 10th and left his tee shot well short. He double bogeyed that hole as well.
Mickelson’s 69 on Friday was his only round under par on a course receptive for U.S. Open scores lower than the norm.
“I thought that the soft conditions obviously made it a little bit easier than everybody had hoped, but the setup was wonderful,” he said. “I just didn’t play how I’d hoped.”
After his round, Mickelson walked past the putting green and spotted runaway leader Rory McIlroy, who had yet to tee off for the final round.
“Play well,” said Mickelson, who then gave McIlroy’s caddie a thumbs-up.
“You could tell that Rory’s had this type of talent in him for some time now,” Mickelson said, “and to see him putting it together is pretty neat to see.”
KID SENSATION: The top amateur at the U.S. Open was Patrick Cantlay, who shot a 72 Sunday to finish tied for 21st at even par – while learning just how taxing a major championship can be.
“I’m really tired,” he said. “I felt it on the back nine. But you know, it’s such a great experience to be here, and it’s been an amazing week. I’m really excited, and adrenaline kind of kept me in it.”
Cantlay, 19, just completed his freshman year at UCLA, where he plans to stay until he earns his degree. He won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation’s top college golfer earlier this month.
“I can work on everything,” he said. “My attitude can improve. I get down on myself sometimes. And definitely my short game can improve. I think that’s the weakest part of my game, and I think this week showed it. I had some spots where I could have gotten up-and-down and I unfortunately didn’t.”
WRONG HOLE, RIGHT RECOVERY: Gary Woodland is from Kansas, but he must have felt as if he’d landed in Oz after he hooked his tee shot at par-5 ninth hole Sunday at the U.S. Open.
Woodland had to venture all the way to the edge of the No. 4 fairway to play his second shot. He lifted it over a bank trees, only to have the ball land on the edge of the right rough along the ninth fairway.
At least he was back on the right hole. His third shot landed precariously on the front of the green and started rolling toward the deep ravine before coming mercifully to a stop.
The pin was at the back of the green, but he putted within 6 feet and made it from there. All that work for a par.
Woodland received words of encouragement from fans as he walked to the 10th, including that most ultramodern of greetings: “I’ll tweet you later.” He then proceeded to make one of the best shots of the day at the tricky par-3 No. 10. He stuck his tee shot within 2 feet and made birdie on his way to a round of 68.