BIRMINGHAM, Mich. — Can a golfer start the final round of the U.S. Open two strokes behind, shoot a four-over-par 74 and still win?
Yes, if the golfer is Andy North.
Can a player take only 278 strokes during 72 holes of the U.S. Open and lose to a player who takes 279 strokes?
Yes, if the golfer is Denis Watson.
Can a player hit the ball twice on the same shot, shoot a seven-over-par 77 and still win the U.S. Open?
No, not if the golfer is Tze-Chung Chen. But he can miss by only one shot.
Those are some of the more mystifying situations that arose during the 85th Open that concluded Sunday at Oakland Hills Country Club in much the same manner as the 1978 Open concluded at Cherry Hills in Denver.
Andy North won them both. He shot a final-round 74 both times, and he bogeyed the final hole both times but won by a single stroke.
North, a plodding journeyman from Madison, Wis., made only eight birdies in 72 holes, but his 70-65-70-74--279 was worth $103,000 and ended a drought in which he had not won a tournament since the 1978 Open.
Tied for second, one stroke back at even-par 280, were three foreign players--T.C. Chen of Taiwan, whose hopes were plundered by a quadruple-bogey 8 on the par-4 fifth hole; Denis Watson of South Africa, who was assessed a two-stroke penalty Thursday for waiting too long for a putt to fall in the cup, and Dave Barr of Canada, who was tied for the lead before he bogeyed the final two holes.
Chen, the slender Taiwanese who had led through three rounds, appeared ready to run away with the championship when he birdied the second hole after North and Barr had bogeyed the first. This put Chen eight-under par and four strokes to the good.
Disaster struck when least expected. Chen, a deceptively long hitter for his 140-pound frame, split the fairway with his drive on No. 5, a 457-yard par-4 hole. He took a 4-iron for his second shot and pushed it far to the right, into thick rough.
"I had a good drive, a good lie, but I tried to cut the ball against the wind (on the second shot) and I pushed it," Chen explained. When he tried to wedge the ball out on his third shot, he didn't hit it hard enough and it stuck in the rough, close to the green.
Using a sand wedge, he attempted to pop the ball up and land it softly on the green. The ball popped up, but his club hit the ball in the air as he followed through. The double-hit counted as two strokes and also deflected the ball away from the green. Jittery over the suddenness of the situation, Chen tried to get one stroke back with a bold chip. As so often happens, it rolled by the hole about seven feet and and he missed his putt coming back.
It added up to eight strokes, four over par, and he had dropped into a tie with North for the lead, with Barr only one stroke back.
"T.C. opened the door for a lot of us right there," North said. "It was a freaky thing, but it's happened to a lot of us. I know he had a sickening feeling at the time."
Chen, whose confident touch around the greens had produced some remarkable scrambling during the first three rounds, suddenly lost it all. He bogeyed the next three holes, taking three putts on No. 6, failing to get out of the rough on No. 7 and hitting a weak 3-wood shot from the rough on No. 8.
"When I arrived today, I didn't feel what you call the Open pressure," Chen said. "I was confident until the fifth hole. After that, all my confidence was gone."
After Chen's collapse, no one stepped forward to capture the Open, the most prestigious prize in international golf. North, who inherited the lead, responded by making three bogeys in four holes. This advanced Barr to the front. His reaction was to bogey three of the last six holes.
Even Chen was given a reprieve. When he rallied with a birdie on the 12th hole, it put him back in a first-place tie with North and Barr. So he made a bogey on the next hole.
Watson, meanwhile, was struggling along, saving pars with a succession of one-putt greens. When he finished his 72 holes at even par, he was only in fourth place but eventually found himself tied for second when Barr and Chen both stumbled at No. 17.
If a single hole--other than Chen's fifth--held the key to the championship, it was the 17th, a 201-yard par 3 with a severely undulating green.
Barr played it first, hitting a 3-iron over the green onto the short rough. He tried to hit a "flop-shot" up over the hump in the middle of the green but didn't hit it far enough. When the ball landed, instead of rolling toward the hole, it veered to the right and down an incline, leaving Barr with a 35-foot putt for his par. He missed.
North was next. He hit a 4-iron and put it in a bunker well to the right and short of the green. He hit an absolutely perfect bunker shot that stopped less than a foot from the hole. A par for North.