US Open 2012: 7 Lessons Learned from Golf's Toughest Test

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIJune 18, 2012

US Open 2012: 7 Lessons Learned from Golf's Toughest Test

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    As Johnny Miller stated during the final round of this year's U.S. Open championship: winning the tournament changes a golfer's life.

    Webb Simpson's name is certainly on the world map after winning this year's title at The Olympic Club. He will make the publicity rounds and talk show trips just as the champions before him have.

    The question is, will Simpson's breakthrough win put him on a path to be golf's next star player?

    While that will be answered in time, here are seven things we did learn this week at The Olympic Club.

1. Tiger Woods Isn't "Back"

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    Any golf story needs to lead with Tiger Woods, right?

    Rightfully so, at least after the first two rounds of the 2012 championship. It seemed everyone—myself included—was ready to call it a tournament and hand the trophy to Tiger.

    Tiger was giving viewers a "stripe show" as he likes to call it.

    His ball-striking was impeccable. Lots of power-fades off the tee and shots wisely positioned in the middle of the green.

    Suddenly, his game left him. Tiger sprayed the ball over the last two rounds, missed many putts, and showed the vulnerability that golf fans briefly forgot about.

    Despite struggling to a third round 75, Tiger still figured to challenge on the final day. However, a horrendous start of six-over par through six holes doomed his chances at major No. 15.

    This week proved it won't be the last we'll hear from Tiger, but it also proved he's not quite "back."


2. The Texas Golf Team Is About to Be Stacked

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    Jordan Spieth and Beau Hossler—two amateurs—did more than hold their own at the Open.

    While Hossler grabbed the attention being a 17-year-old in contention on the final day, he wasn't actually the low amateur of the tournament.

    That honor went to the 18-year-old Spieth, who played the weekend in one-under par with rounds of 69 and 70 on Saturday and Sunday.

    Spieth will be a sophomore this fall, while Hossler will still be a senior in high school at Santa Margarita High School in California. He has indicated his plans to attend the university, though, and wore Texas gear throughout the tournament.

    Although the Longhorns might lose Spieth in the next year or so to the pros, the team just won its first national championship in 40 years.

    Hossler's potential arrival shouldn't hurt the 'Horns.

3. Graeme McDowell Wasn't a One-Year Wonder

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    After a thrilling 2010 season that was highlighted by a U.S. Open championship and winning the final singles match at the Ryder Cup, McDowell's 2011 campaign was a disappointment.

    He fell to No. 21 in the Official World Golf Ranking after missing two cuts leading up to this event.

    With a gusty runner-up performance in the Open on Sunday, McDowell will ascend drastically from his worst ranking since becoming a major champion.

    Perhaps more importantly, McDowell proves that he has plenty of competitive fire left, and that he wasn't a fluke winner at Pebble Beach two years ago.

    Already with a U.S. Open and six other European Tour wins under his belt, McDowell should just be entering the prime of his career at age 32.

    McDowell's gritty style should translate to consistent contention in majors for the next decade or so.

4. Lee Westwood Can't Catch a Break

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    Seven top-three finishes at major championships since 2008 alone, but still no victories for Westy.

    His fortunes on Sunday at Olympic again took a bizarre turn for the worse.

    Playing the opening four holes of the treacherous stretch of six in even par, Westwood's tee shot on the par-four fifth hole got caught in a Cypress tree.

    In 1998, another player named Lee got his ball stuck in the same tree.

    Fortunately for Lee Janzen, his ball fell out as he walked back to re-tee. Janzen saved par and went on to win the tournament.

    Similar luck would not be bestowed upon Westwood on this day. He had to re-tee and settle for a crushing double bogey.

    Westwood never recovered, and finished in a tie for 10th.

    The No. 3 ranked player in the world figures to win a major at some point given his unprecedented amount of recent close calls. As he approaches 40, though, the window is certainly closing.

    Golf is a brutal game and owes nothing to anyone, but come on! Can't the fates give this guy one major?

5. Jason Dufner Is the Best Ball-Striker in the World

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    Hitting 50 of 72 greens on the tough track that was the Lake Course should have yielded better results than a three-over total for Dufner.

    Unfortunately, Dufner took an average of 31 putts per round. He entered the tournament fifth in total driving on the PGA Tour and sixth in greens in regulation.

    Despite a ton of missed short putts, Dufner only finished two shots behind the champion, Webb Simpson.

    While Simpson was on a hot streak with the putter, Dufner had to settle for par on 10 of his first 11 holes on Sunday, missing golden opportunities to gain momentum going along the way.

    This tournament is sure to be remembered for many different storylines, but Dufner's incredible week hitting the ball shouldn't go unnoticed, especially with two majors still to play this season.

    It wouldn't be a surprise to see Dufner have a major breakthrough in 2012 if he can just get a few more putts to fall.

6. Padraig Harrington Is Returning to Major Form

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    In a wildly inconsistent year, Harrington has managed some stellar finishes in major championships.

    After a tie for eighth at the Masters, he fell a little short at The Olympic Club and finished tied for fourth.

    Refusing to blink in the face of early adversity, Harrington birdied No. 7 to begin a stretch of 11 holes that he played in five-under par.

    Although he bogeyed the 18th, he played the last three rounds of the tournament in a total of one-under par.

    The three-time major champion's game has certainly been in prime form in the majors.

    It will be interesting to see if the three-time major champion can become consistent enough to win a couple more.

    Harrington will cement himself as one of the top 20 players of all time if that happens.

7. Thompson and Peterson Put the "Open" in U.S. Open

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    Typically, guys like John Peterson—ranked in the high 800s in the world according to the NBC Sunday broadcast—don't contend for that long at a major championship.

    Same goes for guys like Michael Thompson, who himself came into the tournament totally under the radar.

    On Sunday, these two little-known pros who had to weather a local qualifier to get to San Francisco were threatening to make a big major statement.

    Peterson was particularly improbable, especially coming off of a tie for 61st at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. It was quite the quick turnaround from that event, to qualifying, to Olympic.

    Anyway, Peterson was a short birdie miss on par-three 15th and an edge-burner for eagle on 17 away from a playoff with Webb Simpson.

    Not to mention, Peterson suffered through five three-putts on Saturday.

    Despite no major experience and bad form with the most important club in the bag when contending for a U.S. Open, Peterson hung tough all day.

    Thompson put together the two best individual rounds of the Open. He played the best of anyone in the field on Sunday and posted a two-over in the clubhouse after a three-under 67.

    Until Webb Simpson came in, it looked like Thompson's score might hold up. He blasted a short birdie putt past the hole on 17 for birdie that wound up sealing his fate.

    It seemed the essence of the truly "open" nature of the tournament was captured more this week than in recent memory.

    The fact that these two heavy underdogs even played in the 2012 Open was a long shot in and of itself.

    The fact that both had a legitimate chance to win further highlighted a wonderful aspect to the championship itself.