Pinehurst No. 2 stood tall all week and it proved a stern test to the end. Missing was the usual U.S. Open fortress of rough known to gobble balls hit marginally off line. Instead, native areas with wiregrass and scrub brush inflicted the proper amount of punishment and indecision. First McIlroy and then DeChambeau drove left at 18 into the native area. McIlroy punched out leaving a 30-yard pitch and hit a beauty to 4 feet. Watching things play out on the green in front of him, DeChambeau said, “After my tee shot, I was up there going, ‘Man, if he makes par, I don’t know how I’m going to beat him.’ I just really didn’t know. Then I heard the moans. Like a shot of adrenaline got in me. I said, OK, you can do this.”

McIlroy’s putter had betrayed him yet again, his knee-knocker rimming out the right side of the cup. He had gone 69 holes without missing a putt from inside five feet and then he missed two in the last three holes.

“That element of doubt came in. He started backing away, which he never does. He took a little more time over the putts, which he never does,” said Golf Channel’s Paul McGinley, an Irishman who has seen all the ups and occasional downs of McIlroy’s career. “That’s pressure and he succumbed to it.”

McIlroy declined interviews presumably too shattered to speak and departed quickly, gunning the engine from the parking lot. DeChambeau, who signed for a 72-hole total of 6-under 274, said he expects McIlroy, a four-time major winner, to win multiple major championships. “There’s no doubt,” he said. “I think that fire in him is going to continue to grow.”

For a time, there were concerns whether DeChambeau’s previous major title at the 2020 U.S. Open might be his lone triumph. He had bulked up and learned to hit prodigious drives but also had become injury prone. When he broke his hand in 2022, he said he was concerned his career might be over. He was an outsider, a golf nerd that the clicky top players didn’t connect with; but people who underestimate him usually regret it.

Joining LIV Golf with its team concept gave him three teammates in Charles Howell III, Anirban Lahiri and Paul Casey who have helped him grow as a person.

“I’ve realized that there’s a lot more to life than just golf,” DeChambeau said.

His longtime coach, Mike Schy, witnessed the team bond at LIV Golf Greenbrier event last year and went up to Howell and thanked him.

“You are so good for him,” Schy said.

That week, DeChambeau used a Krank driver in competition for the first time and posted rounds of 61 and 58 on the weekend to win the title. “I’m like, OK, Bryson’s here again. How do I turn this into major championship golf now?”

DeChambeau finished T-6 at the Masters and runner-up at the PGA Championship. Bodine has witnessed his transformation to being a golfer with the mental fortitude to close out another major title. DeChambeau chopped out his second shot at 18 from over a Magnolia tree root and under an overhanging branch to set up his heroics from the bunker.

“This is not breaking news, he has beat himself before,” he said. “That’s what I said to him on the 18th green, you just never gave up.”

Thanks to the shot of his life, he’s the U.S. Open champion again and a winner for the ninth time on the PGA Tour.

“That’s Payne, right there, baby,” DeChambeau exclaimed on the final green, grasping a commemorative pin with Stewart’s likeness on his cap and then pointing to the heavens.

DeChambeau’s celebration was just getting started and he confirmed he’d be drinking chocolate milk out of the trophy, just as he had done in 2020, only first he needed to find a baggie for a prized memento.

“There’s some sand in here so we got to clean it out first, though,” he said with the smile of victory etched on his face.