While Graeme McDowell is a terrific golfer, the general American public knows as little about him as it did about Lucas Glover, who, some of you will remember, won last year’s Open. And hot on McDowell’s heals was a Frenchman named Gregory Havret.
Golf is a great game regardless of who wins its tournaments. But as a spectator sport, it is driven like few others by superstars. McDowell and Havret are superstars in America in the same way Terrell Owens is one in Northern Ireland and France.
Fortunately, this year’s Open was nothing like last year, a tournament that was cursed from the git-go. Biblical deluges postponed and delayed and chopped up the rounds so that we had to finish on Monday. By that time, nobody cared that Glover and Ricky Barnes were battling it out for America's championship and golf’s royalty was able to get on the leaderboard, but Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods could never climb it.
To get viewers involved, the big names don’t have to win. But they have to look and play as if they could win. Last year, there was never any real sense that Lefty, who tied for second with Barnes and David Duval, or Woods, who was four shots back in sixth, could mount a charge and win the tournament.
This year, you had that feeling. Ernie Els, Tiger, Mickelson and Davis Love III were all at multiple times just one big shot from putting more pressure on McDowell than he was equipped to handle. Lefty and Tiger had each had big rounds going into Sunday’s final 18 holes. You felt they could do it again.
Suddenly, what could have been a runaway was wide open. Tiger only had to catch fire on the back nine. Phil just had to sink a couple putts. Ernie just had to keep that big easy swing flowing.
It soon became evident that McDowell was not going to run away and hide. You also suspected that nobody was going to catch him, but because he was running in reverse, you couldn’t be sure.
It turned out that everybody was running backward, and McDowell won because he ran backward more slowly than everybody else.
But you didn’t know that until the last few holes, and by then you had to watch to see if that sweet-swinging French fellow could catch the Irishman who needed a shave. Or if either one or both of them could put a ball or two in the ocean and somehow force us all to come back on Monday for 18 holes of playoff golf, maybe with Els in the mix.
Glover last year and McDowell this year are sure signs that golf is in the midst of change. There’s a new guard coming of age as the established stars fight age and themselves. Tiger has that cheating thing and now the incredibly expensive divorce thing. Els has been searching for his big-game nerve for years. Mickelson just turned 40. Challenging them now are people like 18-year-old Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa and 21-year-old Rory McIlroy, and soon-to-be 26-year-old Johnson.
Phil fans are beyond being discouraged by any amount of knuckleheaded play by their hero. If he didn’t make triple bogeys with as much panache as he makes eagles, he wouldn’t be the hugely popular golfer he is. And he, too, showed he may yet win that elusive Open.
Els was a nice addition to the mix, a thoroughly likeable two-time Open champion who makes galleries roar when his game is on.
What the old guard showed is that they may go down, but it won’t be without a fight. That’s all we can ask for, to have our heroes in the mix with a chance to win.
You can’t call it a great Open, partly because McDowell won with so little challenge from everyone else. But the old gang was all there, which made it a memorable one.
Golf can live with that.
Lexus final-round wrapup: Part 1
June 20, 2010: Bill Patrick, Brian Crowell and Jennifer Mills recap the final round of the 110th U.S. Open, sharing highlights from Graeme McDowell's victory and more.
Latest golf video
The Office's Baumgartner shows off his golf game
DPS: Actor Brian Baumgartner from "The Office" tells Dan Patrick how he felt about the series finale of his show and delves into his golfing routines and even hits the ball while still on the phone with the DPS crew.
Top 10 'accessible' golf courses
From California to Florida, these amazing greens are open for anyone to play.
110th U.S. Open
At Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links
Timeline of Tiger’s sex scandal
Timeline: A tabloid report, followed by an early morning car crash at Tiger Woods' Florida mansion, sets off a dark chapter in the pro golfer's life.
Back at Pebble Beach
Take a look at some of the best photos from the 110th U.S. Open.