Sports

A 3-foot, 11-inch putt and the slim margins that defined Bryson DeChambeau’s second U.S. Open win

PINEHURST, N.C. — The putt that Bryson DeChambeau had to win the 2024 U.S. Open was three feet, 11 inches long.

Its importance was obvious, but the significance of its length went beyond the single moment. On the 18th hole, DeChambeau had driven it left into the native area. With trees in his way, all he could do was punch out into the fairway bunker, 55 yards short from the hole.

But like he had done all week long, DeChambeau scrambled. He stepped up and hit “the bunker shot of my life” to three feet, 11 inches. Like Payne Stewart’s putt in the 1999 U.S. Open, DeChambeau’s shot from the sand save is one that will be played over and over for years to come. Yet it’s rare when a tournament offers up not just one of those unforgettable moments, but more.

Less than 30 minutes before DeChambeau’s iconic up-and-down hole, Rory McIlroy had stood on the 16th green with a one-stroke lead and a short par putt.

Two feet, six inches.

This year, McIlroy has had 496 putts inside three feet. He had made all of them. So when the ball grazed the left-side of the hole and did not go in, everything changed.

McIlroy held out his hand, asking the ball to stop, yet it was almost as if he was asking himself to calm down. He had hit the putt too firm and suddenly, as DeChambeau stood in the 16th fairway behind him, the tournament was tied.

The four-time major winner appeared to move past it, getting up and down from the bunker on 17 for par and hitting his chip shot short of the green on 18 to a distance that should have been automatic.

Three feet, nine inches.

This time, the putt was hit too softly — it slid right and kissed the lip before rolling out. What was, at one point, a two-stroke lead for McIlroy had turned into a one-stroke deficit. From the fairway behind him, DeChambeau could hear the groans. He thought he would need a birdie to win, but now simply a par would suffice.

“A shot of adrenaline got in me,” DeChambeau said after McIlroy bogeyed. “I said, ‘Okay, you can do this.'”

Inside the scoring area a few minutes later, McIlroy stood and watched. With his hands on his hips and his hat nearly off his head, all he could do was accept he no longer controlled his fate as DeChambeau simply needed to make a par with a putt that was similar to McIlroy’s miss.

Three feet, 11 inches. DeChambeau poured it in the center.

In the span of an hour, a tournament had been won and lost by the slimmest of margins. There were other shots that led to those putts — both good and bad. But by the end of the day, it felt like heartbreak and triumph had been determined by just a few inches. It was as if the narratives surrounding McIlroy’s major drought and DeChambeau’s evolution had been solidified by a cocktail of skill, luck and fate.

“I was a little lucky,” DeChambeau said of McIlroy’s missed putts. “​​Golf, it’s a game of luck. There’s a lot of luck that has to happen and go your way out there.”

It’s when these margins are highlighted, when players have no choice but to credit chance for looking favorably upon them, that sports can often transform from simple entertainment into an epic. That’s what occurred Sunday at the U.S. Open.

Pinehurst No. 2 set the stage perfectly. Its unique layout of holes created dramatic juxtapositions between both McIlroy and DeChambeau as they often passed each other between shots. While having both of them in the final group would have heightened the thrilling nature of their back-and-forth duel, the fact that they were apart seemed to create a different kind of tension.

As DeChambeau stepped up to the first tee, a roar could be heard from ahead on the first green. A fan on the veranda let DeChambeau know what had happened.

“Rory birdied the first!”

When both players made the turn, the tournament had solidified itself as a tw0-man race. On the crossroads between the eighth green and the 10th tee, they met again. After McIlroy poured in a 15-foot putt for birdie on the ninth hole and walked to the 10th tee, DeChambeau had to back off a chip on the eighth green as the fans chanted Rory’s name.

“Every once in a while I could hear ‘Rory, Rory’ chants, for what he was doing, so I knew what he did based on the roars,” DeChambeau said. “That was actually kind of fun because it gave me the knowledge of what I had to do.”

Despite the “U-S-A” chants that followed DeChambeau around, there was no protagonist or antagonist in Sunday’s story, simply two compelling characters trying to will their way to victory. Stands like the one on the 13th green and 14th tee switched allegiances upon witnessing both McIlroy and DeChambeau drive the 13th green. Both made birdie. And as McIlroy walked down the 14th fairway after his tee shot, he couldn’t help but steal a glance at where DeChambeau’s ball had landed.

“Yeah, that’s Bryson’s ball, Rory. Take a look!” one fan yelled.

At that point, McIlroy was up two strokes with five holes left to play. But when they walked past each other for the final time as McIlroy marched down the 16th fairway while DeChambeau stalked a birdie putt on 15, it was all tied up again. DeChambeau’s three-putt bogey on 15 appeared to put McIlroy back in control. Then, McIlroy stepped up to his par putts on 16 and 18.

Two feet, six inches. Three feet, nine inches.

“Rory is one of the best to ever play,” DeChambeau said. “He’ll win multiple more major championships. There’s no doubt. I think that fire in him is going to continue to grow.”

While DeChambeau basked in glory, McIlroy’s agony played out differently than it had at previous majors. When he fell short at the Open at St. Andrews in 2022 and the U.S. Open at LACC last year, McIlroy allowed himself to show his disappointment, but also exhibit hope.

While DeChambeau basked in glory, McIlroy’s agony played out differently than it had at previous majors. When he fell short at St. Andrews in 2022 and at LACC last year, McIlroy allowed himself to show his disappointment but also exhibit hope.

“When I do finally win this next major, it’s going to be really, really sweet,” McIlroy said at last year’s U.S. Open. “I would go through 100 Sundays like this to get my hands on another major championship.”

This time, any optimism seemed to have evaporated into the hot North Carolina air.

McIlroy walked out of the clubhouse, declined to speak to the media and only said goodbye to his team before getting into his courtesy car. The sign in front of his reserved parking spot spelled out a cruel reminder: 2011 U.S. Open Champion. Thirteen years ago.

By the time DeChambeau held the silver trophy in his hands, savoring his victory, McIlroy had already peeled off the Pinehurst property, hoping distance and silence would make him forget about coming up short yet again.

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