UNIVERSITY PLACE, Washington (Reuters) - The unexpected ecstasy of Jordan Spieth’s one-shot win at the U.S. Open resulted from the agony of Dustin Johnson’s missed putt from four feet, yet another example of a bitter major finish.
From the three-footer Doug Sanders missed at the 1970 British Open to Kim In-kyung’s horseshoe out of the cup from a foot at the 2012 Kraft Nabisco, golf’s elite events are littered with squandered putts from short distances on the final hole.
The pressure cooker situation of a major championship coming down to the wire is certainly not for the faint of heart and nerves of steel are required to make the right shot at the right time, especially when facing a putt with the title on the line.
Johnson’s moment of personal agony on Sunday came on a challenging Chambers Bay layout where short putts had been missed by the game’s greatest players all week on fast, heavily contoured greens made bumpy by uneven grass cover.
The big-hitting American had just struck a brilliant second shot into the par-five last, needing an eagle three to win in regulation his first major victory or a birdie to force a playoff on Monday with his compatriot Spieth.
With the packed grandstand hushed, Johnson’s 12-footer for eagle slid past the cup and he then missed the short putt coming back, his ball rolling by the left edge of the hole, to hand the title to Masters champion Spieth.
“I had it just inside right,” said a dumbfounded Johnson, a nine-times PGA Tour winner. “I hit it, thought I hit it pretty decent, just missed left.
“They do bounce and when they are fast and bumpy, it’s tough to get it in the hole. I might have pulled it a little bit, but still to me it looked like it bounced left. It’s tough.”
While Spieth was euphoric as he savored his second consecutive major victory, he could feel Johnson’s pain.
“I don’t really know what to say,” said the 21-year-old Spieth. “He very well could have hit a good putt and it could have bounced or it just took a break ... I very much feel for him.
“He’s a great champion. He’s certainly proven that he closes tournaments out. This was just an odd deal, very odd. He deserves to be holding the trophy just as much as I do this week.”
Johnson is the latest in a growing list of players who have suffered major losses after missing short putts.
Ben Hogan, one of the greatest golfers of all time, missed a par putt from three feet on the final hole of the 1946 Masters to hand Herman Keiser a surprise one-stroke victory.
Sanders missed a heavily-breaking three-footer on the final hole of the 1970 Open Championship at St. Andrews, ending up level with Jack Nicklaus who won an 18-hole playoff for the title the following day.
Hale Irwin was in contention for the 1983 British Open at Royal Birkdale when he came agonizingly close to sinking a 20-footer on the 14th hole. Stunningly, he then missed the tap-in with his ball inches from the hole as he played an air shot.
Irwin, who went on to lose that year’s Open championship to Tom Watson by one stroke, described his whiff as “a mental lapse”.
American Scott Hoch made a mess of the par-four 10th at Augusta National when he missed a two-foot putt there to lose out to Britain’s Nick Faldo in a playoff for the 1989 Masters.
South African Retief Goosen all but threw away the chance to win the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills when he missed a two-foot putt on the final hole, though he went on to beat American Mark Brooks the next day in an 18-hole playoff.
South Korean Kim was not as fortunate at the 2012 Kraft Nabisco Championship, the opening women’s major of the year, after she missed a one-foot par putt on the final hole when her ball caught the right edge, spun around and headed back to her.
Kim went on to lose to her compatriot Yoo Sun-young on the first sudden-death playoff hole.
Editing by Frank Pingue