U.S. Open: Bryson DeChambeau hits 'best shot of my life' to outduel Rory McIlroy in epic finish

PINEHURST, N.C. — Golf has a new hero. Bryson DeChambeau captured his second U.S. Open on Sunday, holding off a back-nine charge from Rory McIlroy to tame a treacherous Pinehurst.

In an epic battle, DeChambeau and McIlroy went to the 18th hole tied at 6-under. McIlroy, up ahead, missed a 4-foot putt for par, opening the door for DeCheambeau. Only, it took some sorcery from DeChambeau to make it happen.

After a wayward drive left him hunched under a tree, forcing him to punch out to a greenside bunker, DeChambeau hit the bunker shot of his life, dropping it to within 4 feet.

Bryson DeChambeau celebrates after winning the U.S. Open golf tournament Sunday, June 16, 2024, in Pinehurst, N.C. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Bryson DeChambeau celebrates after winning the U.S. Open on Sunday in Pinehurst, N.C. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Unlike McIlroy, he wouldn't miss, and a second U.S. Open championship was his.

"I can't believe that up-and-down on the last," DeChambeau said. "Probably the best shot of my life."

For McIlroy, it's another major gone without lifting a trophy, this one maybe as bitter as any in the 37 (and counting) since his last major victory at the 2014 PGA Championship. He missed two putts inside 4 feet in the final three holes. Watching inside the scoring tent as DeChambeau's putt dropped, McIlroy understandably looked as dejected as ever.

For DeChambeau, who decamped from the PGA Tour to LIV Golf two years ago, he's suddenly found himself the darling of the galleries, cheers and chants of “U-S-A!” accompanying his every step. What this means for the ongoing PGA Tour-LIV split remains to be seen, but it’s clear that DeChambeau is now one of the game’s top draws, especially after making good on his post-round promise to let everyone touch the 18-inch tall, sterling silver winner's trophy.

Coming into the week, Scottie Scheffler reigned as the No. 1 player, No. 1 betting favorite and No. 1 story. After his win at the Memorial — his fifth in his last eight tournaments — Scheffler was edging into Scottie-versus-the-field status. The assumption was that Scheffler would work over the field and the course the way he did Augusta, and the way he probably should have done at the PGA Championship at Valhalla, and then we’d all be wondering whether the Louisville Police Department had kept Scottie from winning a grand slam.

Spoiler: Scheffler won’t win the grand slam this year, and the Louisville PD had nothing to do with that. Scheffler ran headlong into the early week’s other major story: Pinehurst No. 2 itself. The course’s wicked combination of turtleback greens, sandy wiregrass rough and blast-furnace heat leveled Scheffler, and quite a few other big names too.

“The game of golf is a mental torture chamber at times,” Scheffler said after Saturday’s round, “especially the U.S. Open.”

On the other hand, the U.S. Open offers entry to literally anyone who can survive the grind of qualifying, and that always leads to incredible stories of everyday folks mixing it up with the pros. One of this year’s best: Colin Prater, a high school biology teacher from Colorado who qualified his way into the tournament. Prater didn’t last long — he carded a 79-78 to miss the cut by 12 strokes — but he’ll have memories to last the rest of his life.

Tuesday’s all-out media blitz didn’t feature a whole lot of news, but did offer up two significant off-course stories. McIlroy announced that he and wife Erica have called off their divorce, which may or may not have had an impact on McIlroy’s game. Jon Rahm showed up to his media session with a bandage on his toe, which definitely had an impact on his week; later in the day, Rahm announced that he had withdrawn from the tournament altogether.

Rahm’s absence deprived the U.S. Open of its 2021 champion and also considerable star power, but given his 2024 season to date, it’s debatable how well even a healthy Rahm would have handled Pinehurst No. 2. As it is, LIV Golf literally bracketed the U.S. Open leaderboard, from DeChambeau at the top to Phil Mickelson way down at the bottom. Not only that, the USGA appears ready to invite more LIV Golf players to the U.S. Open, regardless of whether the world rankings support them.

And then, as always during a major week, Thursday came around, and all outside-the-ropes concerns vanished. The leaderboard remained remarkably consistent, with most of the leaders on Thursday sticking around all the way through the weekend to Sunday afternoon. Cantlay set the pace on a surprisingly forgiving Thursday, tying the record for lowest round ever shot at a Pinehurst U.S. Open at -5. A few hours later, McIlroy matched him to share the lead. Ludvig Åberg finished a stroke back, and Matthieu Pavon and DeChambeau were two behind the leaders.

Åberg, who has played two majors prior to this one in his entire career, was the story on Friday, putting together a steady round that allowed him to take the solo lead. But Cantlay, McIlroy, Pavon and DeChambeau all stayed within two strokes.

In yet another sign of golf’s generational shift, Tiger Woods once again failed to make the cut, but this time he went a step further, hinting that he might actually be done with U.S. Opens. Mickelson also stumbled through the week and left Pinehurst early, though few in the gallery watched him go.

Saturday served as both a reminder of how tough a U.S. Open can be, and how good DeChambeau can be. Collin Morikawa set the stage early in the day by throwing down a -4 round that moved him into the top 10 by sunset, but the day truly belonged to DeChambeau, who fought his way to -7 while riling the gallery into a frenzy. Shouts of “U-S-A!” accompanied every DeChambeau drive and birdie, and there were plenty of both on Saturday.

The first pairings on the U.S. Open’s final day went off nearly seven hours before DeChambeau and Pavon. Scheffler, for instance, wrapped up just as the leaders walked onto the first green, leaving town with a +8 score. More than likely, Scheffler was glad to be done with the “mental torture chamber” that is the U.S. Open.

The USGA placed the U.S. Open trophy just to the right of the first tee, meaning every player had to look at it as they walked to the tee. Not a single one of the leaders gave it a glance, though, not even those who had won it before.

Most of the players walked to the first tee laterally in front of the clubhouse from the putting green. But DeChambeau emerged from a tunnel underneath the clubhouse, rising into the light and through a crowd lined three deep on both sides like a heavyweight boxer walking into an arena before a title fight.

Before DeChambeau even had a chance to tee off, he lost a stroke off his lead. Ahead on the first green, McIlroy sank a 20-foot putt, and the roar of the gallery echoed back up toward the tee. With the leaders off at last, the U.S. Open kicked into a higher gear.

On the fourth, playing the as the second-toughest hole of the day, DeChambeau recorded his first bogey to fall back to -6, and Pavon his second to fall to -3. One hole ahead of them, McIlroy struggled through the par-5 fifth, a beautiful 5-iron approach sliding off the green and into the wiregrass below. McIlroy’s long par putt slid just past, and DeChambeau’s lead returned to two strokes.

DeChambeau’s early Sunday game clearly lacked the bite of Saturday, but McIlroy, Cantlay and Pavon couldn’t put more pressure on him. For every moment of chipping brilliance and clutch putting that McIlroy summoned up, he had an equally squirrelly approach that put him out of position.

But as the leaders approached the turn, matters tightened up. McIlroy rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on 9 to get to -5, and behind him, DeChambeau, at -6, had to scramble his way into rolling in a 10-foot putt for par. As the putt rolled true, the gallery thundered and DeChambeau fist-pumped at keeping McIlroy one stroke back.

So as DeChambeau made the turn, he stood at -6, holding a one-stroke lead over McIlroy, a two-stroke lead over Cantlay, and a four-stroke lead over a trio of players.

On the 10th, McIlroy tied up the U.S. Open — momentarily, at least — with a 26-foot putt that curled in for birdie to get him to -6.

But DeChambeau remained relentless, feathering a chip to within four feet on the same hole, setting up the first birdie of his round. Lead back to one.

But McIlroy wasn't done. He drained a 22-footer for birdie at 12 to catch DeChambeau again, then carded another short birdie at 13, his fifth of the day. That coupled with a bogey by DeChambeau back at 12 gave McIlory the solo lead for the first time.

"RO-RY! RO-RY! RO-RY" the crowd erupted as McIlroy walked to the 13th with a two-stroke lead.

Then came DeChambeau, who answered McIlroy by driving the 316-yard 13th to within 28 feet. His eagle putt was dead on, but about three rolls short. The birdie brought him back within one.

And when McIlroy bogeyed No. 14, the two were tied ... again, but only for a moment.

DeChambeau had a birdie opportunity at 14, but blew it four feet by the hole. Then he missed the comebacker for par.

The pressure of the moment didn't just get to DeChambeau, as just seven minutes later McIlroy missed his own par putt from inside four feet. Tie game, again.

It would come down to the final hole.

Both found the dirty rough on their drives. McIlroy, one group ahead, had another short putt for par only to miss. He hadn't missed a putt inside five feet all week; he missed two in the final three holes.

Behind him, Dechambeau hunched under a tree branch, a horrible lie/stance after yet another wayward drive. Unable to take a full swing, DeChambeau punched a shot into a greenside bunker, still 55 yards between his ball and the hole.

And then he hit the shot of his life, leaving himself four feet for the title. This time, he would not miss.