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U.S. OPEN : Stewart Shows the Finishing Touch : Golf: His 75 wins an 18-hole playoff by two strokes as Simpson again is haunted by Hazeltine's last three holes.

June 18, 1991|MAL FLORENCE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CHASKA, Minn. — If Scott Simpson ever plays at Hazeltine National Golf Club again, he should make a wide detour around the 16th hole.

For the third consecutive day, he had a two-shot lead over Payne Stewart as he approached No. 16.

And once again, the 16th, a treacherous par four measuring 384 yards, tormented Simpson on Monday. He bogeyed the hole, and Stewart got his first birdie in 31 holes for a two-shot swing.

Simpson, usually steady, bogeyed the next two holes, virtually forfeiting the 91st U.S. Open championship to Stewart.

It wasn't championship golf at its finest, but the course and the rock-hard greens on a windy day had a determining effect.

Stewart, 34, who won the PGA Championship in 1989, has won his second major title.

It was accomplished with a round of 75, three over par, while Simpson struggled to a 77 in their 18-hole playoff.

It was the highest winning score in an 18-hole Open playoff since Tommy Armour beat Lighthorse Harry Cooper, 76-79, at Oakmont, Pa., in 1927.

Even Stewart, who is 2-5 in playoffs, conceded that it wasn't "outstanding golf," but he said he showed patience and fortitude, adding: "I'm fortunate to be the champion."

Simpson, 35, a former USC star and the 1987 U.S. Open champion, was, as usual, gracious in defeat, praising Stewart, rather than dwelling on his own misfortune.

"I tried as hard as I could, and I admire Payne as a person and a player," said Simpson, 1-2 in playoffs.

"Even though I'm disappointed now, I'll look back on this Open with fond memories. I finished second and beat almost everyone else."

In the final analysis, it was the finishing holes that finished Simpson in the Open. Over the last three days, he played the final three holes in seven over par.

"I really don't know why," Simpson said. "They're not that hard. I just didn't play them well."

Even though Stewart dropped two strokes behind Simpson with a double bogey at the 15th hole, he was still determined going to the 16th.

"I didn't quit and if I ever quit, I would be an idiot," he said. "Funny things happen on the way to the clubhouse."

The "funny things" began at the 16th hole, which requires a 200-yard carry over Lake Hazeltine from the tee to the landing area.

Simpson and Stewart safely made the fairway, but Stewart's second shot had to carry over a tree.

"I didn't think that would be a problem for Payne because he's a high-ball hitter," Simpson said.

Stewart reached the green with his iron shot, landing 20 feet from the cup.

Simpson said his seven-iron second shot hit a mound near the green and went 40 feet past the cup. Simpson three-putted. His last effort was from only three feet and nicked the cup.

Stewart made his birdie putt from 20 feet, giving him a two-stroke swing.

At the fifth and 14th holes, Simpson had benefited from two-shot swings.

With the match even, Stewart tee's shot on the par-three, 182-yard 17th found the green.

Simpson's tee shot landed in the rough near the green and bounced into a bordering pond.

"It was a terrible shot, and I don't know why," said Simpson, adding that he pulled the shot slightly.

Simpson chipped from the drop area and made a 12-foot putt to save a bogey.

Stewart two-putted from 20 feet for a par.

Simpson trailed by one shot going to the par-four, 452-yard 18th hole.

Stewart's tee shot carried into a fairway bunker. His second shot landed in the rough about 70 feet below the hole. He chipped to within five feet of the cup.

Simpson's tee shot found the rough in front of the fairway bunker. His second shot went over the green and into the rough. He had a difficult downhill chip shot, and the ball skidded 10 feet past the cup. His par putt went two to three feet past the hole.

Stewart had only to two-putt from five feet to win, but he finished in style, making his par putt.

For Stewart, it was a satisfying comeback after being sidelined for 10 weeks earlier in the season because of a chronic back and neck injury.

"I was relieved when I found out it wasn't a career-threatening injury," Stewart said.

"I was even more patient than my wife was on my getting back (to play)."

Stewart, born in Missouri and based in Orlando, Fla., said his ultimate goal is the Grand Slam--winning the Masters, the British Open, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship--though not necessarily in the same year.

He has accomplished two of his goals.

And he said he had an inkling that it was his day as early as the par-three eighth hole, when his tee shot splashed into the water, hit a rock and bounced onto the bank. He managed to get a bogey, when it could have been a disastrous hole.

"That was a really lucky break," Simpson said.

Stewart agreed, saying: "You have to have some breaks to win championships."

Or breakdowns by someone else.

U.S. Open Playoff Scorecards Scorecards of Payne Stewart and Scott Simpson for the 18-hole playoff Monday of the 91st U.S. Open, played on the 7,149-yard, par-72 Hazeltine National Golf Club course.

Par out 445-344-534--36 Par in 454-345-434--36 72 Stewart out 445-354-544--38 Stewart in 454-356-334--37 75 Simpson out 555-334-444--37 Simpson in 554-435-545--40 77

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