PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Up the coast and inland a bit a bit, it would have been a heckuva accomplishment, a headline-making deal.
Unfortunately, Dustin Johnson was playing golf along Stillwater Cove, not baseball next to McCovey Cove.
|A triple-bogey 7 on the second hole was only the beginning of Dustin Johnson's problems, and he never recovered. (Getty Images)|
The 25-year-old, seeking to win for the third time in 16 months at Pebble Beach, finally proved fallible at Pebble, and what a fall it was.
Johnson, who a day earlier matched the best round of the week with a 5-under 66 to take a three-stroke lead into the final round, blew the margin in approximately 30 minutes and then blew skyward like a seagull in the onshore breeze with a closing 82.
He gave back six shots over his opening four holes, shot a 7-over 42 on the front nine and was run over by the likes of top guns Graeme McDowell, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els.
It was over before it really started, like he popped the clutch at the starting line. It was a completely unexpected stumble for Johnson, who was being eyed by a slew of players because he had been so unflappable all week and seemed unbeatable at Pebble, where he won the titles at the AT&T National Pro-Am in 2009 and 2010.
Butch Harmon, who coaches Phil Mickelson and Johnson, approached Lefty before the round and was greeted with a Lefty wisecrack.
"I don't know what you're doing with Dustin Johnson, but you need to cut that [stuff] out," Mickelson said.
Nick Watney watched Johnson warming up and noted that his demeanor seemingly covers the narrow band between sleepy cool and outright comatose.
"I think what he does really well is he is almost, I want to say, nonchalant," Watney said. "He never seems like he is trying too hard, forcing things. Even keel."
This time, he keeled over and left without speaking to reporters afterward.
With a caddie named Bobby Brown, maybe he was destined to get roughed up a little. He has plenty of company in this regard, not that it would provide much comfort when he set his head on his pillow Sunday night. In fact, he became the third player in five years to take a swan dive off the very top of the 54-hole leaderboard. And the second guy at Pebble Beach.
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After leading the 1982 Open at Pebble Beach, Gil Morgan shot a closing 82 in high winds and plummeted. Five years ago, in a real shocker, two-time Open champion Retief Goosen skied to an 81 on Sunday and was out of the mix almost immediately.
In 2007, third-round leader Aaron Baddeley blew his two-shot lead and then some on the first hole at Oakmont with a triple-bogey from point-blank range around the green -- which was eerily reminiscent of what took Johnson off the top of the board Sunday.
Calm and collected all week, Johnson hit his approach shot on the second into some deep hay around a greenside bunker and had to hit a wedge shot left-handed. After that swing moved the ball perhaps 10 feet, he tried a lob from ankle-deep rough and undercut the ball, moving it perhaps 3 feet.
Without taking a deep breath, he stood over the ball and hit it almost immediately, lobbing it to within 3 feet. From there, he didn't even sniff the hole as he made a triple-bogey to lose the outright lead.
It wasn't much better on the next hole, when he carved a wild tee ball into the gunch. It could not be located within the allotted five-minute window, and had to make the walk of shame back to the tee box to reload.
As if that wasn't bad enough, an NBC analyst mistakenly referred to him as Dustin Hoffman as he was searching through the weeds for his lost tee ball.
Insert Rain Man or Ishtar jokes here.
Johnson was poised to jump to the fore of the under-30 brigade. More heralded Sean O'Hair, Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas have three career wins on the PGA Tour, like Johnson, but no player under age 30 had won a major.
While Johnson was unraveling, playing partner McDowell was mounting a hellacious rally, U.S. Open-style. Which is a nice way of saying he picked up three shots and assumed the lead with ho-hum pars on the first three holes.
It got so bad that when a media guy sauntered into the lunchroom as Johnson was chopping up the front nine and sat down to watch the TV action, he noticed that some brown chocolate-looking substance was smeared all over the seat of his chair.
"Hey," somebody cracked. "Be careful. Dustin Johnson was just sitting there."