OAKMONT, Pa. -- Eventual 2016 U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson was resigned as he was being told in the middle of his round Sunday that he may be assessed a penalty for a ball that moved on the fifth green even though he said he didn't cause the ball to move. His playing partner, Lee Westwood, was angry.
Westwood sniped back and forth with a couple of USGA officials walking with the group. I wasn't close enough to hear him, but the message was pretty clear: He didn't cause his ball to move. I was there and can vouch for him.
No dice. Johnson was still given the penalty.
"On the fifth green, the rules official, I called him over and told him what happened," said Johnson. "Lee was standing right there. He saw it. So we both agreed that I didn't cause the ball to move. So I just played on from there with no penalty."
The USGA had a different idea.
"We agreed that we were concerned about what we saw and felt obligated to have a conversation with Dustin about it, and the 12th tee presented the best opportunity to do that," said managing director of rules & competitions Jeff Hall in a press conference. "We had that conversation with Dustin. We told him that what we saw was a concern, but we also asked him a couple of questions. Was there something else that could have caused the ball to move?
"It's Rule 18-2 talking about a ball move. In making a determination about whether a player caused the ball to move, you look at a number of factors. Certainly, there's a recognition of Oakmont's greens. We recognize that. But a couple of the other considerations you look at are the player's actions and also the time that elapses between the player's actions and the time that the ball moves."
Johnson was adamant that his actions didn't make the ball move, and video evidence seems to back that up.
Again, the USGA disagreed.
"If you think in percentage terms, 51 percent chance or greater that the player caused the ball to move," said Hall. "Again, as a committee, when we reviewed the tape, we looked at it and said, given the timing of his actions and the ball moved, it was more likely than not that Dustin was the cause of the movement."
This is where Westwood comes in. He's a double decade veteran of these tournaments. He's seen it all. And that's why he and his caddie, Billy Foster, became part of Team Johnson coming home, trying to offer moral and emotional support when they could. They, in effect, joined the rest of the golf world, which rallied late Sunday to help Johnson -- at least spiritually.
"Obviously, it's great, and it just shows the support the guys have for each other because we've all been in that situation," said Johnson. "I mean, there's no way that I feel like that I caused that ball to move, and they understand that because it's happened to all of us at one time or another. So to have them supporting me and stuff, it's definitely nice, and thank you to everyone who was supporting me."
Foster put his arm around Johnson after finding out about the ruling. He fist bumped Johnson after a big-boy par save at the 16th. Westwood, who was in contention until a rough outing Sunday, remained heated and clearly tried to pave the way to major No. 1 for Johnson even as Westwood himself was in the middle of shooting a final-round 80.
"Lee is a classy guy," Dustin's brother and caddie, Austin, told me later. He noted that Westwood was steadfast in insisting that Johnson had done nothing wrong. A scoring official later told me that Westwood demanded to be shown the video that Johnson was shown in the scorer's tent after the round.
"I gained a lot of respect for Westwood today," said the scorer.
This is one of the great things about golf, right? Even in the midst of intense competition with a scoreboard full of guys vying for their first major championship, Westwood was willing to fight for another once his fate had already been sealed with a front nine score of 43.
In the end, Johnson did his own fighting and won by three even with the penalty assessed. But as Johnson finished up with an epic birdie on 18, Foster summed up a day he'd helped Dustin and Austin finish off.
Dustin poured his putt in for the title and turned to the crowd. Foster mockingly bowed to the new champion before hugging him and offering his congratulations. The throne was Dustin's, but he had a ton of help putting on the crown.