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Ogilvy defies destiny to become champion

MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- When the dust settled, when the clock struck midnight, when the melody to the USGA's considerable game of Musical Chairs finally stopped, Geoff Ogilvy was sitting in the champion's throne at Winged Foot Golf Club, wondering exactly how he had been crowned king of the 106th U.S. Open.

"I don't know. It's hard to ... I don't know," Ogilvy stammered in his first words on the podium after accepting the glimmering silver trophy directly from USGA president Walter Driver and indirectly from a cast of some of the world's top golfers -- a gift, ostensibly, for being the only man to make par on each of the tournament's final four holes. It's altogether appropriate that in one of the most dramatic U.S. Open finishes of all-time, the last man standing was the one who avoided such tragic theater.

So, who can blame Ogilvy for being tongue-tied? Just minutes earlier he was in the scoring trailer, preparing a few quick congratulatory words for presumed champion Phil Mickelson and perhaps a concession speech of his own. That the reigning Masters and PGA champion would, in succession, block a drive off the roof of a hospitality tent, ricochet his next shot off a tree branch, punch into a greenside bunker, blast to the far rough and chip past the final hole was beyond the realm of comprehension. For Ogilvy, it was like watching the Titanic sink right before his very eyes while snuggled safely in the lone dinghy that would drift lazily ashore.

"It was pretty surreal," Ogilvy said. "How many times do you watch a telecast and you watch the guy who's just finished watch the guy come up the last? I must have done it a thousand times, watching the guy watching the TV. And that was me."

It was never supposed to be him, though. This wasn't Geoff Ogilvy's U.S. Open. Destiny came knocking on the door of so many players before him, men whose stories seemed predetermined by the USGA's karma committee.

Originally, the tournament was to be a coronation for Tiger Woods, one final Father's Day gift to the man who had taught him the game. Earl Woods passed away six weeks earlier, but by early Friday afternoon, following a second straight score of 6-over 76 that would leave the top-ranked player three strokes shy of the cut line, it was clear this dream had been vanquished.

The torch of ambition was passed onto Colin Montgomerie, he of the boorish disposition and newly found lovable-loser status. Playing his 58th major championship while still seeking that elusive first title, the stout Scotsman charged up the leaderboard only to fall short of his long-standing goal once again.

When Monty faded, it was clear the championship had become Phil Mickelson's to win or lose. The New York galleries, awed by his every move, outwardly and eternally grateful to Lefty for his forthrightness and thankfulness, collectively averted its eyes when it was declared the people's champion would not be the tournament's champion.

All of which left Ogilvy, a relative unknown to the masses who shot seemingly benign rounds of 71-70-72-72 for four days, as the paladin of golf's most demanding major championship. He wasn't the sentimental favorite, nor the object of the gallery's affection. Just a man with a simple desire that echoes the refrains of so many of his peers.

"Everyone who plays golf," he said, "dreams about winning a major."

Of course, the title wasn't handed to Ogilvy while other players buried their heads in Winged Foot's third cut of rough; it only seems like it. He did it the old-fashioned way, earning the victory much like Hale Irwin did on this very course 32 years ago, with a little bit of style and a whole lot of substance.

The flash came on the par-4 17th hole. Lying three with his ball nestled in the greenside rough some 30 feet from the hole, Ogilvy hit the shot of the tournament, the one most fatalistic memories will forget in time. In a mere instant the ball was up and down again, disappearing into the cup with nary a warning for a sublime par.

"My caddie, Squirrel, he said, 'Just chip it in. Why don't you just chip it in?' " Ogilvy recalled with delight after the round. "You wait your whole life to have a chance to chip one in the last three holes of a major, but when you do it, it took me by surprise a little bit. You try to make it go in, but you don't expect it."

The ensuing most important shot of Ogilvy's life came on the 72nd and final hole. After chipping to within six feet, the 29-year-old Aussie stood over a putt that may have been abundantly more difficult had he known it was to win his first major championship. Ogilvy drilled the par putt, walking off the course one shot behind Mickelson. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

It wasn't supposed to happen this way. But Geoff Ogilvy is sure happy it did.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com