SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Ray Floyd broke out of an amazing, pressure-packed tangle of contenders and became the oldest U.S. Open golf champion of them all Sunday.
"I felt last night that truly this was it. If I couldn't handle it here, it was very likely it wouldn't happen again," the 43-year-old Floyd said, choking back tears. "I had an awful lot of thoughts, emotional as I am now--you'd think I could handle this better now after 25 years.
"Realistically, today I felt like I had to do it. It was probably my last chance. Maybe not, but probably."
With a closing 66, a bogey-free effort of 4 under par on historic Shinnecock Hills, he shouldered aside nine others who led or shared the lead at one time or another over the final 18 holes.
The win was the 20th of his 24-year pro tour career. His 279 total, one under par and the only subpar total in the tournament, was two strokes better than Lanny Wadkins and Chip Beck and three ahead of Lee Trevino and Hal Sutton.
"I played exactly the way I intended," Floyd said. "I hit two bad golf shots all day. I played wonderfully.
"I'm just tickled to death."
The victory ended two decades of frustration for Floyd, the 1976 Masters winner with the tournament record, the 1969 and 1982 PGA champion and now all but certain to eventually be in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
In 21 previous Opens, he had never even been in contention on the final day, finishing no higher than sixth in his first one. In fact, the $115,000 winner's check from the $700,000 purse was more than double the $51,018 Floyd earned in all his other Opens combined.
It was yet another hit for a sports golden oldie, following 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus' sixth Masters victory and 54-year-old Willie Shoemaker's fourth Kentucky Derby winner.
The oldest previous Open winner was Ted Ray, 43 years, 4 months and 16 days, in 1920. Floyd is 43 years, 9 months and 11 days, and he needed every bit of that experience to fight his way up a crowded leader board.
He won it with pride and stony-faced determination.
At no time did a smile cross his face, not when he made his birdies, not when he quick-stepped up the 18th fairway to a standing ovation from the gallery spilling out of the stands; not until he dropped that last putt on the 72nd hole.
He paused in the course of his round to snap at photographers clicking away: "Don't take any snapshots until I've hit the ball."
But through it all, "Raymond had that look in his eyes," said his old friend, Wadkins, who had tied the new course record earlier in the day with a 65 that gave him the early lead in the clubhouse. "When he gets that look, he's hard to handle."
Wadkins was one of the corps of players who led or shared the lead at one time or another after Australian Greg Norman, the second-and third-round leader, fell out of it with a 5-over 75 that put him five over for the tournament.
Trevino and Sutton had started the day a stroke behind Norman, with Floyd three behind.
Floyd was aware of the rush, even if he tried not to be.
"I told myself one hundred times, 'Don't check the scoreboard. Play your game. Play your game. Do what you know you can do. Things will take care of themselves,' " he said and then explained why he couldn't follow his own instructions. "You can't help but check the scoreboard. They're out there, and they are very visable, and you can't help but look."
One name he didn't see was Nicklaus. Or Tom Watson. Or Seve Ballesteros.
None of them really got untracked. Nicklaus could not recapture the Masters magic. He had a 68 that left him five strokes back at 284.
Watson, a five-time British Open champion, and Ballesteros, the dashing Spaniard and two-time Masters winners, finished at 289, 10 back. Ballesteros had a closing 73, Watson 75.
While they weren't in it, it seemed almost everyone else was.
There were Wadkins, a former PGA title-holder and probably Floyd's closest friend on the tour, and Beck, not yet a winner, firing early 65s in the warm, muggy, hazy weather, then sitting by, waiting and wondering if Floyd would fold.
"I've played a lot of golf with him, and I've never seen any back-off in him. I don't expect to today," he said.
And he didn't.
Beck and Wadkins, despite their course record-matching scores, had to be content with a share of second.
There was Norman, the flaxon-haired Australian who seemed ready to run away with the tournament both Friday and Saturday and finally relinquished the lead for good on the third hole Sunday.
There was the 46-year-old Trevino, trying to take a page from Nicklaus' book and roll back the years. He got the book off the shelf, but he couldn't get it open.
And there were the others, Bob Tway and Hal Sutton and Payne Stewart and Mark McCumber and Ben Crenshaw, without a victory since his 1984 Masters triumph.
All those players, 10 of them counting Floyd, either led or shared the top spot at one stage or another.
At one time or another, all backed away--all but Floyd.