PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - Everyone has the opportunity to feel like a youngster when they give their dad a present on Father's Day. So even though Graeme McDowell is 30 and has been traveling the world as a pro golfer for the past eight years, his father, Kenny, rushed to him on the 18th green, hugged him and kept shouting in his ear, "You're some kid! You're some kid!"

This was the sort of ending McDowell had been dreaming about since he was a boy, that's true. But the real fact Sunday was that he was The Man. He was the only player with a strong enough game and strong enough head to match par for the week and win the U.S. Open.

While superstars were sliding backward and the third-round leader with a great resume at Pebble Beach suffered an epic meltdown, the tour player from Portrush, Northern Ireland held on with a 3-over-par 73 to win his first major championship and become the first European in 40 years to win the Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970.

Having seen that his nearest and unlikeliest pursuer, Frenchman Gregory Havret, had bogeyed No. 17 and made par on No. 18, McDowell went the wise route. He got to the 18th green in three and two-putted.

"And they gave me this thing," he said, holding the Open trophy. "I couldn't believe it.

"I think I've died and gone to heaven for sure. This can't be real. 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."

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Not that he was a newcomer to the championship podium. He has won five times on the European Tour, including his most recent event, the Wales Open, two weeks ago.

"I've played in plenty of major championships. I've played in plenty of golf tournaments where I've made mistakes," he said. "I feel like I've served my apprenticeship a few times. I've been in position going into weekends of majors and not done the job. I just have so much more confidence in my abilities. I've worked hard. I've improved as the years have gone on. I walked away from my win in Wales feeling like I was playing the golf of my life."

And it continued at Pebble Beach yesterday. "I made some great swings on the back nine," the champion said.

The same could not be said for third-round leader Dustin Johnson, who had appeared unflappable Saturday. McDowell's playing companion for the final two days was said to be a "flat-liner," someone who doesn't have emotional peaks and valleys. What's more, he had won the past two AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Ams on the PGA Tour.

But he had the kind of start that a weekend hacker fears. On the second hole, he put his second shot in the deep rough above a greenside bunker. He tried to hit out lefthanded and barely got the ball to budge. He duffed another. He chipped on and missed his putt. He took a triple-bogey 7. He hooked his drive on No. 3 into bushes, had to re-tee and took 6.

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At that point, the Open clearly was up for grabs, but no one could grab it. Tiger Woods couldn't build on his hot finish from Saturday, making bogeys on the first, fourth and sixth holes. Phil Mickelson played the back nine at 3 over when par would have tied McDowell. Ernie Els was within a shot of McDowell at the turn, but he drove over the cliff on No. 10, took double bogey and finished third.