Geoff Ogilvy of Australia recorded pars on the final four holes of Winged Foot's historic West Course to capture the 106th U.S. Open Championship by one stroke over Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Colin Montgomerie. As many of his fellow competitors struggled through the closing holes, Ogilvy produced three remarkable shots on the final two holes to post a final round score of 2-over-par 72 for a total of 5-over-par 285 for the championship.
"It's pretty hard to believe," Ogilvy said after his final round. "Obviously, you dream about winning major championships, but to actually have it happen -it's pretty special. It's a pretty nice feeling."
Ogily, 29, was playing in justhis third U.S. Open, but entered the championship enjoying the finest year of his career. In late February he claimed his second title on the PGA Tour with a victory in the WGC-ACCenture Match Play Championship at La Costa, and in March finished runner-up to Luke Donald at the Honda Classic. He ranked fifth on the official money list and had risen to 17th in the Official World Golf Rankings. But he was looking to add a major championship to his resume.
"To every Australian of my age who grew up in the '80s and '90s watching Greg Norman] play, it became pretty apparent that the majors were a pretty big deal," Ogilvy noted. "Everyone who plays golf dreams about winning a major."
When the championship opened on Thursday, many eyes were on two-tune U.S. Open champion Tiger Woods, who was returning to competition for the first time since the death of his father, Earl, in early May. But Woods opened his round with bogeys on the first three holes, hit only three of 14 fairways and finished with a 6-over-par 76. Instead, the first-round lead went to Scotland's Montgomerie, twice runner-up in the U.S. Open, who posted a one-under-par 69. A group of five players, including 2003 U.S. Open champion Furyk and two-time Masters champion Micleelson, trailed Montgotnerie by one stroke. Ogilvy, meanwhile, opened with a 1-over-par 71 that placed him in an eight-way tie for 7th.
At 1-under-par 139, Wisconsin-native Steve Stricken playing in his 11th U.S. Open, held the lead at the close of the second round. Montgomerie trailed Stricker by one stroke, while Ogilvy remained two strokes back in a tie for third with England's Kenneth Ferric, Mickelson, meanwhile, posted a 3-over-par 73.
The high scores at Winged Foot proved one of the most significant stories of the first two days. Montgomerie had been the only player to break par in the first round, and only five players returned sub-par scores on Friday. The average first round score of 75.98 was the highest since 1986. Among those who failed to make the cut at 12-over-par 152 were defending champion Michael Campbell, as well as Woods, who posted a second round of 76 to miss the cut by three strokes.
Measuring 7,264 yards for the 2006 championship, Winged Foot West was the longest course in U.S. Open history, but length was not the only challenge facing the field throughout the week. For the first time in history, the USGA employed a two-tiered mowing pattern in the rough, with a primary cut that measured 3'/z inches and a secondary cut at 5'/z inches. Seven inches of rain had fallen during the week prior to the championship, ensuring that this rough was both deep and thick. To challenge the players off the tee, most fairways measured 22 to 28 yards in width in the driving zone.
"We set up the U.S. Open courses to match our philosophy that we want the most rigorous test in championship golf," said Walter Driver, president of the USGA, prior to the first round. "The players don't see courses like this very often."
The challenges of Winged Foot West continued into Saturday's third round. Abundant sunshine and strong breezes had begun to dry out the course, and it became increasingly difficult to hold the greens, particularly on shots played from the thick rough. Mickelson enjoyed his best round of the week, hitting 12 of 18 greens en route to a 1-under-par 69 that placed him in a tie for the lead with Ferrie at 2-over-par 212. It had been 32 years since the third-round leader stood over par for the championship, all the way back to 1974 when Tom Watson, at 3-over-par, led Hale Irwin by one stroke on this same Winged Foot course. Ogilvy, with a round of 72, now stood just one stroke off the lead.
The mounting pressure of Sunday's final round was matched by the heat, as temperatures soared into the mid 90s for the first time all week. Third-round co-leader Ferric held form through six holes, until bogeys at the seventh, eighth, 10th and 11th dropped him out of contention. Mickelson continued to struggle off the tee as he had all week, hitting just two fairways through the first 14 holes. Yet he stood just one over par to this point in his round, salvaging his score with remarkable iron play, most notably his approach shot to the 14th green from the right rough that finished some six feet from the hole to set up his third birdie of the day.
With birdies at the first, fifth, 11th and 12th holes, Furyk remained very much in contention at four over par, while Montgomerie birdied the fourth and fifth to drop to 3 over. Ireland's Padraig Harrington, six over par at the start of the round, birdied the 12th and 14th holes and for the first time all week threatened to take control of the championship. With four holes left to play, the championship was up for grabs.
The closing holes at Winged Foot provide one of the most challenging finishes in the game, and on this day they served up one of the most dramatic finishes in U.S. Open history. Furyk and Harrington were the first of the leaders to test the finishing holes. Furyk would play well from tee to green, but struggles on the greens led to two costly bogeys. Harrington, playing in the same pairing with Furyk, posted a par at the par-4 15th, but then bogeyed the 16th, 17th and 18th holes to finish one behind Furyk at 287.
Montgomerie followed, two groups behind Furyk and Harrington, with pars on the 15th and 16th. His approach to the 17th green finished some 50 feet from the hole. Faced with the possibility of three-putting from such a long distance, Montgomerie holed his putt for a birdie 3, moving him to 4-under for the championship. His drive on 18 split the fairway, leaving him in an ideal position 172 yards from the hole. But Montgomerie's 7-iron approach fell into the deep rough short and right of the green. His pitch ran well past the hole, and he three-putted for a double-bogey six, finishing level with Furyk at 286.
Ogilvy was next in line, playing in the penultimate pairing with Ian Poulter. Earlier in the round he posted birdies at the fifth and sixth holes to drop to one over par, but he had given strokes back at eighth, ninth, 11th and 14th and stood five over par as he started the closing stretch. After posting solid pars at the 15th and 16th, Ogilvy hit a wayward tee shot at the 71st hole that found the rough. He pitched out and played his third to a position hole high but just off the green, but then made a 30-foot, downhill chip to save par.
"You wait your whole life to have a chance to chip one in the last three holes of a major," Ogilvy later said about the shot. "It took me by surprise a little bit. You try to make it go in, but you don't expect it."
Now playing the 72nd, Ogilvy played his drive down the center of the fairway, but the ball came to rest in a troublesome lie in an old divot. He struck the ball cleanly, but with too much spin and it drew back off the green. Ogilvy's pitch ran six feet past the hole, but he made the testy downhill putt to save par. In at 285, he was the leader in the clubhouse with Mickelson the only contender remaining on the course.
After his improbable birdie from the right rough at the 14th, Mickelson posted a par at 15 to remain at three over par. After his tee shot at 16 found the right rough, his approach plugged in the greenside bunker short and right of the green, leading to a costly bogey. Another wild tee shot followed at 17, hitting a trash bag in the left rough. From here he played a remarkable recovery, a low, cutting iron shot around the trees that finished on the green, where he two-putted for par. He headed to the 72nd hole at four over par with a onestroke lead over Ogilvy.
To this point in the round, Mickelson had hit just two of 13 fairways, and the final hole proved no different. Playing driver from the tee, Mickelson blocked his tee shot far out to the left, the ball caroming off a hospitality tent before coming to rest in the left rough. He attempted to hit a 3-iron over and around the trees that blocked his path to the green, but the shot struck the limbs of a tree, falling again into the rough just 30 yards ahead. His third cleared the trees, but plugged in a greenside bunker left of the putting surface. His explosion from the bunker - his fourth shot - ran past the hole and off the putting surface into the greenside rough. Mickelson now needed to hole a chip shot for a 5 to secure a tie with Ogilvy. His shot failed to find its mark, leaving Mickelson distraught over the unexpected turn of events.
"As a kid I dreamt of winning this tournament. I came out here and worked hard all four days, and then bogeyed the last hole," Mickelson lamented. "Even a bogey would have gotten me into a playoff. I just can't believe I did that."
Ogilvy watched the dramatic events unfold from the locker room. "I think I was the beneficiary," he said, "of a little bit of charity."
With his victory at Winged Foot, Ogilvy became the first Australian to win a major championship since Steve Elkington won the PGA Championship in 1995, and the first to claim the U.S. Open since David Graham won at Merion in 1981. "Hopefully Australians will win four majors in a row," said Ogivly "Australian golf is pretty strong at the moment."
Starts - 3
Best Finish - Winner 2006
Rds - 10
Cuts Made - 2
Top 3 - 1
Top 5 - 1
Top 10 - 1
Top 25 - 1
Avg. - 72.10
Scores in 60s - 0
Rds Under Par - 0
Earnings - $1,270,486.00