- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2011

Casual golf fans last year probably didn’t know much about Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel.

That changed when McDowell won the U.S. Open, Oosthuizen ran away with the British, Kaymer finished first in the PGA Championship and Schwartzel rallied for the green jacket at the Masters.

None of them was able to put a scare into Rory McIlroy during this U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, but they all sensed a newfound level of fan appreciation and feasted off it this week.

“I was saying to my caddie that a couple years ago, five, six years ago when I came out here, you would walk down the fairway and people would recognize you. They’d say, ‘We’ve seen you somewhere,’ but they don’t actually know who you are,” Schwartzel said. “Sometimes you’d hear, ‘Who’s that guy?’ And now I really had a lot of support, and that’s nice. It’s very encouraging.”

Schwartzel and Oosthuizen in particular thrived Sunday, with both South Africans finishing the tournament at 4-under. Schwartzel put together a bogey-free final round and sank five birdies to get onto the leader board, while Oosthuizen drilled a deep par putt on No. 18 to reach that same number.

Earlier in the week Oosthuizen noted more fans following along in the gallery but joked, “I don’t think they’re going to get my surname right.” Perhaps more should learn, given his major performances.

McDowell, who enjoyed a healthy ovation while walking down the 18th fairway, walked away 2-under and was smiling afterward despite finishing down the track from McIlroy.

“I guess that’s my 12 months over,” he said. “It was a lot of fun - it was just a great year as U.S. Open champion. I loved every second of it.”

Kaymer had the worst week of the group, but the 26-year-old German still felt better in this major with one already on his resume.

“For me it was an unbelievable boost to know you can win any tournament …And all the other players, they know I’ve won already,” Kaymer said.

Mickelson’s rough weekend

Phil Mickelson knows how to get himself out of trouble - he has made a living doing just that. But on the 18th hole Sunday, Mickelson’s shot out of a bunker dropped right into the water on the other side of the green.

It was just one of those weeks at this U.S. Open for Mickelson, who shot a 71 to finish 7-over. Asked what was missing or what he can take away from this, Mickelson responded: “I’m not sure yet if I have a great answer for you right now.”

He turned 41 on Thursday and is nearing that age where competing for major championships won’t be easy. And this one got off to a wet start as Mickelson hit his first tee shot at Congressional into the water. Despite a 2-under 69 Friday and Sunday’s even round, Mickelson was erratic and couldn’t find the fairway for most of the tournament and walked away with yet another disappointing U.S. Open performance.

Cantlay is top amateur

Patrick Cantlay came out on top in one of the mini tournaments within the U.S. Open, finishing as the low amateur by shooting 1-over. Cantlay, who just finished his freshman year at UCLA, insisted he would not consider turning pro until he graduates.

Russell Henley, a recent Georgia graduate, was the only amateur close. He shot 4-over Sunday to wind up at 4-over.

Golf hurts

Henrik Stenson was enjoying a decent fourth round when he hit what he thought was a bad shot on No. 15. It was obvious what he thought, because Stenson broke his club and cut his hand.

Stenson’s caddie had to attend to him before he continued his day. He bogeyed the hole.