By Jeff Shain The Orlando Sentinel
SAN FRANCISCO — Jack Fleck over Ben Hogan. Arnold Palmer’s back-nine collapse. The sizzling Sundays of Scott Simpson and Lee Janzen.
Now add Webb Simpson to the Olympic Club’s pantheon of Sunday surprises.
The quirky, tilted hillside layout dispensed yet another U.S. Open surprise amid the fog and mist of the California coastline Sunday, placing the trophy in Simpson’s hands after a mid-round charge that proved enough when Jim Furyk faltered in the final hour.
Simpson, a North Carolina native, was six shots behind Furyk after five holes but stormed back with four birdies in his next five. Eight pars followed, finishing off a 2-under-par 68 that left him one stroke ahead of Michael Thompson and 2010 champion Graeme McDowell.
“It was just a cool day,” Simpson said as he waited for Furyk to play his final hole. “I had a peace all day. I knew it was going to be a tough day — I probably prayed more the last three holes than I’ve ever done in my life.”
He got crucial answers on the final two. Simpson salvaged par from a greenside bunker at Olympic’s par-5 17th hole, then lofted a delicate chip from the rough alongside the 18th green that rolled downhill and came to rest 3 feet from the flagstick.
Simpson dribbled the par save home, posting a four-day total of 1-over-par 281. Then it was a matter of waiting out Furyk and McDowell.
“That was nerve-wracking,” Simpson said. “I know what kind of players they are. They’ve won majors; I expected them to do well coming in.”
Furyk’s steady game, though, was starting to unravel over the back nine. A bogey at the par-3 13th dropped the 2003 Open champion into a tie for the lead. Three holes later came the swing that ultimately sealed his fate.
Despite leaving his driver in the bag, Furyk unleashed a hard snap hook that went deep into the trees and thick rough. His only choice was to chip back out to the fairway, and he was unable to save par.
Furyk also found birdies elusive on the final two holes, watching his approach at No. 18 drop into a greenside bunker. He skulled that shot across the green into another bunker, eventually finishing with a birdie-less 74.
“I don’t know how to put that one into words,” said Furyk, who wound up tied for fourth. “I just didn’t handle it very well. I’m not sure I hit the wrong club off the (16th) tee, but probably hit the wrong shot off the tee.”
McDowell’s roller-coaster round appeared to eliminate him after bogeys at Nos. 13-14, but a birdie at No. 17 left him a chance to tie. But he missed the green and couldn’t get a desperation chip to hit the hole.
“This golf course doesn’t allow you to get in a rhythm,” McDowell said. “It was a slog, and I was just happy the way I hung in and made a few birdies.”
The victory was just the third of Simpson’s career. He had zero at this time last year, before finally breaking through at Greensboro and then again during the FedEx Cup playoffs.
The finish fell right into the Open’s usual playbook at Olympic, where giant-killers now have knocked off their more-established rivals in all five editions. Simpson joins the Olympic champions’ roll call of Fleck (1955), Billy Casper (1966), Simpson (1987) and Janzen (1998).
Tiger Woods, seemingly in line to make a run at his first major title since 2008, never was a factor Sunday. Two bogeys and a double bogey in his first three holes eradicated any hope he had of catching up to the lead, finishing with a 73.
“The first six, I just didn’t play well at all,” Woods said. “I just could never get anything going positively and I missed the ball on the wrong side a couple times. That’s all it takes.”
Woods now will have gone a full four years since his last major title — the epic 2008 Open at Torrey Pines, where he outlasted Rocco Mediate in a 19-hole Monday playoff.