SAN FRANCISCO: Webb Simpson stormed to the U.S. Open title Sunday, seeming more surprised to find himself sitting beside the trophy than the string of major champions he left in his wake.
“To be honest, I never really wrapped my mind around winning,” said Simpson, who put together back-to-back rounds of 68 Saturday and Sunday at The Olympic Club to finish one-over par and one stroke in front of former champion Graeme McDowell and Michael Thompson.
Simpson came out on top on a day that saw former champion Jim Furyk lead most of the way, two-time champions Ernie Els and Retief Goosen make an impression on the leaderboard, and Ireland’s three-time major winner Padraig Harrington make a late run.
If 14-time major champion Tiger Woods was conspicuously absent from the leaderboard, he was still on Simpson’s mind.
“One of my thoughts on the back nine was ‘I don’t know how Tiger has won 14 of these things,’” Simpson said. “I couldn’t feel my legs on the back nine.”
The affable 26-year-old from North Carolina, who won his first two titles on the U.S. tour last year and challenged Luke Donald for the money title late last season, was playing just his second U.S. Open.
He admitted to being nervous before, during and even after the round as he waited to see if McDowell or Furyk could force a playoff.
“I was so nervous all day, but especially there at the end,” said Simpson, who did a quick TV interview after his round then settled in with his wife Dowd in a quiet spot to watch the overnight leaders finish.
“We tried to watch videos of our son James that we have on our phone, and we did that to stay calm,” he said.
When McDowell’s putt to force a playoff slid past the hole, Simpson could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
The text messages of congratulations came flooding in, but Simpson said he was still having trouble getting to grips with his achievement.
On his caddie’s advice, he hadn’t looked at a leaderboard since his second bogey of the day at the fifth hole until he wrapped his round to cheers at 18.
“The crowd was kind of telling me where I stood,” he said. “They were getting louder and really pulling for me, which I appreciated.
“I putted out on 18 and that was the first time I looked since early on the front nine, and I knew it was going to be close coming in.”
Simpson jump-started his round with a birdie at the par-four sixth, which yielded just two birdies on Sunday.
“It’s one of the toughest on the golf course because our driver gets to the bunker and our three-wood doesn’t,” he said. “My caddie kind of talked me into hitting driver on the weekend ... today it set us up for a seven-iron.
“It ended up about 5 feet and made birdie,” said Simpson, who birdied the next two and picked up another shot at the 10th.
Simpson, who pocketed $1.44 million for the victory, said that even after his breakout 2011 season, he didn’t feel he was necessarily homing in on a major victory. His aim, he said, was simply to continue his development.
“I wanted to just come out and continue to improve my game, continue to improve my mental capacity to play well in tournaments,” he said. “I’ve had a slow year compared to last year, but I’ve been pleased because I felt like I was getting better.”