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The Mad Scientist. Golf Hulk. Swole In One. Call Bryson DeChambeau whatever you want, but now you’ve got to call him a U.S. Open champion.
DeChambeau, one of the most fascinating characters in golf today, proved that his unconventional, cerebral approach to golf can pay off huge. He authored one of the truly brilliant final rounds ever played at the U.S. Open, a three-under gem punctuated by two birdies and an eagle. The only under-par round of the day and the only under-par scorecard for the tournament, DeChambeau finished at -6 to clinch his first major championship.
It was a remarkable mastery of a course that had dominated every other golfer in the field. The gentle Winged Foot that welcomed players to the U.S. Open on Thursday was a long, long way away. That version of Winged Foot was the deferential host, allowing 21 players to finish under par for the lowest aggregate scoring day in U.S. Open history. Justin Thomas won Thursday, carding a 5-under 65 that marked the best-ever round at Winged Foot in a U.S. Open.
Nobody believed the good times were going to last — Thomas would ultimately finish at +6 for the tournament — and they didn’t.
Winged Foot ripped into the field on Friday, with only three players finishing their rounds under par. DeChambeau was one, Patrick Reed another, and the two would pair up for Saturday’s round. Further down the leaderboard — much, much further — Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson struggled their way around the course, missing the cut together for the first time ever at a U.S. Open. You could look at the bottom of the leaderboard, or you could look at the top, but the message was the same: a new generation is running the game now.
Reed and DeChambeau entered the ring Saturday against Winged Foot, but only DeChambeau was able to survive. Reed detonated on the back nine, costing himself any chance of victory even as Wolff was quietly marching past him. DeChambeau, meanwhile, stayed steady with an even-par 70 to once again stay in the next day’s final pairing. He and Wolff had edged their way out from the pack at -3 and -5, respectively, but Reed’s implosion was evidence that devastation was only one hole away.
Winged Foot popped some of the Sunday hopefuls in the face right from the start. Rory McIlroy four-putted on the very first hole to card a double-bogey that dropped him to +3. Harris English lost his tee shot, and had to suffer through a double-bogey of his own to put him at +2. Hideki Matsuyama, who also began at E, also double-bogeyed.
That opened up a bit more distance for the leaders, who combined to form the youngest final group pairing at the U.S. Open in more than half a century. Wolff was trying to become the first player since Francis Ouimet all the way back in 1913 to win the tournament in his first attempt. DeChambeau, meanwhile, was trying to prove his complete physical-and-mental regimen wasn’t just a fraud or a gimmick, but a well-conceived plan that would end with a major trophy.
Wolff blinked first, bogeying the par-3 3rd after a wayward tee shot ended up on the far side of a copse of trees surrounding the green. On the fourth, Wolff rolled a 35-foot putt just over the edge of the cup, settling for a par, while DeChambeau drained a 13-footer for birdie to claim a share of the lead. That put the two of them four strokes ahead of the entire field.
Matters grew worse for Wolff at the 5th; he bogeyed to surrender the outright lead to DeChambeau. The leaders hung on by their fingernails until the 8th, when DeChambeau failed to curl in an 11-foot putt and Wolff slid an eight-footer just past the cup.
That brought them a stroke closer to the rest of the field, with the ever-steady Xander Schauffele and Louis Oosthuizen waiting at E. English lurked another stroke back, having effectively recovered from his miserable first hole. No one else stood closer than +3, miscues and missed opportunities dooming McIlroy, Thomas and so many others.
The bell rang on the heavyweight fight on the ninth green, when both DeChambeau and Wolff canned eagles to put the field far in the distance. At that point, the U.S. Open effectively turned into match play, with DeChambeau up one on Wolff. So let’s recap it that way, shall we?
Hole 10, par 3: DeChambeau -5, Wolff -4
Wolff ended up stuck in the fringe around a greenside bunker, and effectively had to choke up and swing level at the ball while standing in the bunker. It was an astounding, creative shot, but Wolff wasn’t able to follow it up with a par save. DeChambeau, meanwhile, rolled his long putt to within three feet and thundered it right in for a par that put him two strokes up.
Hole 11, par 4: DeChambeau -5, Wolff -3
Smelling blood in the water, DeChambeau pounded his tee shot, only to watch it edge up to a greenside bunker. Wolff, meanwhile, chunked his approach, but steadied himself to set up for a par. It wouldn’t be enough, as DeChambeau drained yet another short birdie to extend his lead to three.
Hole 12, par 5: DeChambeau -6, Wolff -3
DeChambeau unleashed another one of his hammer-of-Thor drives, and got a fortunate kick out into the fairway. Wolff, who put his shot in almost exactly the same spot, didn’t get the same good luck. His ball remained buried in Winged Foot’s ferocious rough. Wolff wasn’t able to stick his approach on the 12th’s slick green, while DeChambeau sailed his own chip well past the flag. Wolff’s long birdie putt scooted well past the pin, and his six-foot comebacker — the most important shot of his tournament, from a hanging-on perspective — dropped to keep the separation at three strokes.
Hole 13, par 3: DeChambeau -6, Wolff -3
Both players drove the green, with DeChambeau ending up on the short side and Wolff bouncing his drive past the pin. Wolff’s birdie putt didn’t quite break enough to drop; both players took their pars and moved on.
Hole 14, par 4: DeChambeau -6, Wolff -3
DeChambeau opened the door for Wolff by dropping his tee shot into the left rough and his approach into the gunk beside the green. But Wolff also put his tee shot almost on top of DeChambeau’s, and his approach wouldn’t stick on the green, rolling all the way back onto the fairway. Both ended up looking at 10-foot par putts, Wolff from above the cup, DeChambeau from below. Wolff’s didn’t turn, DeChambeau’s didn’t miss, and the sun dropped lower behind the trees.
Hole 15, par 4: DeChambeau -6, Wolff -2
Wolff scrambled his way to a miraculous par, rattling his tee shot off the trees running along the right side of the fairway and, later, dropping a knee-knocking three-footer for par. Meanwhile, DeChambeau just routinely worked his way through the hole in four conservative strokes.
Hole 16, par 4: DeChambeau -6, Wolff -2
All DeChambeau did was blast his drive 365 yards down the middle of the fairway, the longest drive of the day on 16. Wolff, meanwhile, went from bad to worse, starting in the right rough and then flailing over to the left side. His approach skated right off the back edge of the green, he two-putted on the green, and that was pretty much the ballgame.
Hole 17, par 4: DeChambeau -6, Wolff E
With a six-stroke lead, DeChambeau played four-corners defense, swinging easy and keeping control. Wolff, frustration evident, couldn’t make any headway. Pars for both, and on to the finale.
Hole 18, par 4: DeChambeau -6, Wolff E
It’s impossible to even mention the 18th hole at Winged Foot without bringing up Phil Mickelson’s 2006 debacle. Mickelson, in the lead, self-destructed, costing himself what would turn out to be his best career chance at a U.S. Open. DeChambeau drifted a little wide right, quite a difference from Mickelson bouncing his tee shot off a hospitality tent off to the left. From there, DeChambeau got to make the finest walk in golf, the stride up the 18th fairway with a major championship waiting at the end.
Bryson DeChambeau is a major champion. Who would have thought it? Besides DeChambeau himself, of course.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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