Golf: Graeme McDowell in dreamland as he captures US Open title

GRAEME McDOWELL hugged the US Open trophy tightly after landing his first major title in California – and toasted the start of his career.

Two weeks after winning the Celtic Manor Welsh Open, the 30-year-old from Portrush, Northern Ireland, was the victor of a last-round war of attrition at Pebble Beach Golf Links, defeating France's Gregory Havret by one stroke at level par and surviving the rigorous challenge of a US Open set-up better than fellow contenders including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els.

And as McDowell added his name to the list of champions, not least former Pebble Beach winners Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and current world No.1 Woods, he said he felt a new chapter opening for him after eight years as a professional on the European Tour.

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"There's not too many bad golfers on this trophy," McDowell said. "And to join an elite list of names, I mean, careers are defined by major championships and my career's off and running today.

"It's been a special few weeks. To win in Wales and to come here and win, I can't describe how I feel. It's a surreal feeling for me right now but I feel ready to go.

"I'm playing the golf of my life right now and to pick up this trophy, I don't know, I'm not sure how much partying I'm going to do over the next three months. Probably I should sober up pre-Ryder Cup at some point, but I'm looking forward to celebrating this one and it's a cool feeling."

McDowell had been the 36-hole leader at Pebble Beach but started the final round three strokes behind American Dustin Johnson after losing a third-round duel with the big hitter.

Johnson, though, folded quickly on the last day, triple-bogeying the second hole and then double-bogeying the third as the Northern Irishman played steadily, not dropping a shot until the ninth.

And even as he began to unravel a little, so too were Woods, Mickelson and Els, one by one falling off the pace until McDowell went to the last with a one-shot lead over Havret.

As he watched from the 18th fairway, Havret missed a birdie putt on the famous par-five closing hole, instead taking par and leaving McDowell to get up and down for victory.

He laid up his second shot to 100 yards from the hole, pitched on to the green and two-putted from 20 feet to seal a major at his 19th attempt, the first European to win a US Open since Tony Jacklin 40 years prior and the second Portrush man to win a major after 1947 Open winner Fred Daly.

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"It was a great day," he said. "I stuck to my game plan, did my job.

"I bogeyed nine and ten, and for the first time I had a look up at the leaderboard walking off ten, and I saw I was two in front. I really played good on the back nine, made some great swings, hit some really nice putts.

"And I'm sure Greg's disappointed – bogeyed 17, didn't birdie the last.

"When I saw him not birdie 18, I had my decision made. I laid it up, and obviously took my five, and they gave me this thing," he said, still holding the trophy.

"I couldn't believe it. I think I've died and gone to heaven for sure. This can't be really real and I don't think this will ever sink in.

"It's a very special feeling to pick this trophy up on the 18th green of one of the most special golf courses on the planet. To join the list of names, Tom Kite, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus. I can't believe I'm standing here as a major champion. It's an amazing feeling."

Havret outplayed Woods on the last day at Pebble Beach to claim second place but was happy to be the "unknown" contender at the 110th US Open.

The Frenchman, on his US Open debut, had been paired with Woods in the penultimate group, ahead of overnight leader Johnson and McDowell, but was so under the radar at the second major of the year that his name was even left off the on-course scoreboard as he set out from the first tee.

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It all ended sweetly for Havret, though, as he won his duel with the 14-time major winner by three strokes, carding a one-over-par 72 to Woods' 75, and picked up the $810,000 second prize after finishing a shot behind McDowell at one over par.

"I know I'm coming from a little bit far (out)," Havret said. "I know I'm playing number one in the world and I'm coming a little bit from nowhere.

"Even for me it's not such a big surprise (to be left off the scoreboard).

"These kind of things can happen. I don't take it badly."

Nor was the Frenchman, who qualified for the US Open by sinking a 50-foot putt at the Walton Heath qualifier, surprised to be holding his own against the best players in the world.

A three-time European Tour winner, his biggest win came at the 2007 Barclays Scottish Open when he defeated Phil Mickelson, then the world No.3, in a play-off.

"When I'm playing with them it means I'm playing good," Havret said of Mickelson and Woods.

"I was paired with Phil in the last round at Loch Lomond. Obviously I had three beautiful days before.

"I'm pairing with Tiger here. Obviously three very good days before and both times I was very much into the feeling that I had just to continue the thing and do the job like I did for three days.

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"Both times I thought exactly the same, that I've got to get the job done."

Havret could not quite reel in McDowell to win the US Open but he was a gracious runner-up, happy that a European had broken the 40-year drought in the event since Jacklin won in 1970.

"I'm very happy for Graeme, it breaks 40 years of (dashed) hopes for Europeans," he said. "I came second, I'm quite happy to, so it's very exciting."