SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Ten different players held or shared the lead in the final round of the United States Open golf championship Sunday before 43-year-old Raymond Floyd broke out of the pack to win the game's most prestigious tournament.
Floyd, who started the day three strokes behind Australian Greg Norman, shot a near perfect round of four-under par 66 over the demanding Shinnecock Hills course. His round of four birdies and 14 pars gave him a 72-hole total of 279. He was the only player to finish under par.
Floyd is the oldest player to win the Open since it was first played in 1895, thus continuing the trend set by Jack Nicklaus earlier this year when he was the oldest ever to win the Masters. Ted Ray, a younger 43, had been the oldest Open champion since winning in 1920.
Although Floyd never led until he birdied the 13th hole, his margin at the close of one of the wildest days in major championship history was two shots over Lanny Wadkins and Chip Beck.
Wadkins and Beck, who finished more than a hour before Floyd, both shot course record 65s and then sat in the clubhouse and waited while all but Floyd fired and fell back.
At one time there were seven players--Norman, Lee Trevino, Hal Sutton, Payne Stewart, Ben Crenshaw, Bob Tway and Mark McCumber--all tied for the lead at one over par. Floyd was one shot back at the time, but there were so many clogged at the top that few were paying him much attention.
"This was a phenomenal experience for me to be able to achieve one of my greatest desires since I became a professional golfer 25 years ago," Floyd said after accepting his $115,000 winners check. "I am especially proud of the way I won it, coming from behind. I've always had the reputation of being a front-runner, so this was a wonderful experience."
Although Floyd played rock-steady golf for 18 holes through the dunes of Shinnecock, where the second U.S. Open was played in 1896, the 12th and 13th holes proved the turning point.
When Floyd arrived at No. 12, a 472-yard par 4, he was one shot behind the benickered Stewart. Floyd's 3-wood shot off the tee landed in a fairway bunker. He blasted out short of the green, hit a second sand wedge 20 feet from the hole--and sank the putt to save par.
"I knew if I didn't make that putt, I might drop too far out of it," he said. "Payne (Stewart) was looking at a birdie and if I made bogey, I'd have been three behind."
Stewart made his birdie to become the first player all day to go under par for the tournament and it also put him in the lead by himself.
"I think the way I came right back at No. 13 and hit three good shots to make birdie was an even bigger lift for me," Floyd said.
No. 13 is only 377 yards long but it has the narrowest fairway at Shinnecock and calls for two perfectly hit shots. Floyd hit them, a 1-iron off the tee and a 6-iron that left him a four-foot putt for a birdie.
When Stewart bogeyed the hole, Floyd moved into a share of the lead.
"That hole devastated me," Stewart said. "I thought I had a birdie and wound up with a bogey."
Stewart's second shot was just off the edge of the green. He chipped boldly and the ball caught the cup but spun a few feet away. His putt for par missed the cup completely.
"When my chip started heading for the cup I figured I'd made 3. Even when it missed I figured I had my 4 but I walked off the green with a 5. Even though I was still tied for the lead, I guess I lost a little momentum."
Stewart bogeyed three more holes and wound up tied for sixth with Crenshaw.
"Once I got behind I gambled on making birdies and you don't gamble at Shinnecock and get away with it," Stewart said. "Suddenly, the party was over for me."
One by one the other front-runners also fell by the wayside, victims of the swirling winds that blow capriciously across the narrow sliver of land between Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, the tight fairways and tiny greens that have made Shinnecock Hills one of the country's top-rated courses--and their nerves drawn taut by U. S. Open pressure.
How they fell:
Norman--The flaxen-haired third round leader was alone at even par when the day started, but he never got started. After taking three putts on the third green and failing to birdie the par 5 fifth hole--when his six nearest challengers all did--Norman began his backwards slide.
"The whole thing played flat for me," Norman said. "When I missed that little 3 1/2-foot putt on the sixth hole, all the emotion left me. Even when I made a birdie on the next hole I never felt like I was back in it.
"I'm not saying I gave it away, because Raymond (Floyd) did a hell of a job shooting 66, but I never ever had a chance with the score I shot."
Norman shot 75--285 and tied for 12th with Denis Watson.
Sutton--The former PGA champion birdied the first hole to move into a tie with Norman and was still sharing the lead as late as the 11th hole, but a bogey at No. 12 did him in.