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Golf Finally Gets Gets Even With Stewart

On the day he arrived in Augusta for his first Masters in 1983, Payne Stewart hired a limousine and a driver. As they approached Magnolia Lane, the road leading to the storied clubhouse, he popped a cassette into the backseat VCR. “Chariots of Fire?” No. “Caddyshack.” It was the young, irreverent Master Stewart’s little joke on golf.

It took 15 years, but golf finally got him back.

In the intervening years, the game has been very good to him. He has won nine tournaments, including the 1989 PGA Championship and the ’91 U.S. Open, and more money than all but six players in history.

But golf has been lurking, waiting for the right moment to even the score. It came here Sunday, in the final round of the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, when Stewart arrived at the cusp of greatness.

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It is one thing to win a U.S. Open. It is quite another to win more than one. Many players who have done it belong in the game’s pantheon, players such as Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino.

When Stewart entered the final 18 holes with a four-stroke advantage, larger than any third-round leader has had since Tony Jacklin in 1970, the order of the day seemed to call for a coronation, not a competition.

And what a fitting tribute a victory on Father’s Day would have been to Stewart’s late father, Bill, an amateur champion who played in his only U.S. Open on this same course in 1955. Stewart’s mother, Bee, was here, then and now.

It was now that golf chose to play a little joke on Stewart. The game didn’t pull a chair out from under him, short-sheet his bed or hand him an exploding cigar.

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What it did was place a divot in the middle of the 12th fairway.

For those without a golf glossary at hand, that is a divot that tournament officials have chosen to fill with sand. By the end of the fourth day of play here, there were so many divots on some holes that Tiger Woods said the fairways looked like minefields.

Stewart’s otherwise superb drive on the 416-yard, par four 12th bounced into one of them, the world’s tiniest sand trap.

He contemplated his shot, changed clubs and then hit--into a genuine sand trap guarding the green.

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“If you drive the ball in the fairway, and you’re in a sand divot where they’ve come in and intentionally put sand in there to replace it, I feel that you should be allowed to call an official over and say, '. . . I should get a drop,’ ” Stewart said.

But golf was having too much fun at his expense. A USGA official did approach Stewart after his shot out of the divot to warn him for taking too much time.

“That didn’t sit real well,” Stewart said.

He bogeyed the hole, losing solo possession of the lead for the first time since early in the first round and falling into a tie with Lee Janzen, who through three holes Sunday was seven strokes behind.

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It was not the first time their destinies have crossed in the U.S. Open. In the final round in 1993, Stewart rallied to catch Janzen on the back nine, but Janzen won the tournament with three birdies on the last five holes, including a chip-in on the 16th.

Janzen didn’t have to win it this time. Stewart lost it.

He followed his bogey on No. 12 with another at the 13th, birdied No. 14 to regain a share of the lead and then had another adventure with a sand trap on No. 16 for another bogey. He finished with a 74, his first score over par in the tournament, but high enough for a total of one-over 281. Janzen was one stroke better after a 68 Sunday.

“I sure was trying,” Stewart said. “Obviously, the Payne Stewart that I was hoping would show up didn’t show up today.

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“So I did everything the same way I’ve been doing it for three days, and today it was just a little bit off. In the game of golf, a little bit can be just enough.”

There was a time in Stewart’s career when he wouldn’t have been all that disappointed to lose a U.S. Open like he did this one. He would have expected it.

For those who didn’t know him, he seemed brash, cocky. But the knickers he wears, those close to him say, were a cover for an inferiority complex. He once told a friend he signed the deal to display the Plus Fours apparel so that golf fans would remember him after he was gone from the tour. He didn’t believe his career would be as distinctive as his pants.

Winning the U.S. Open in 1991 in a playoff with Scott Simpson caused Stewart to wonder about the U.S. Open. It was like the Groucho Marx joke about not wanting to belong to a club that would have him as a member.

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Stewart, 41, is secure enough now to laugh when other players suggest he might choke, as some did after Saturday’s third round.

“Leading the tournament is better than chasing,” Janzen said. “But I believe we’ll sleep better than he does.”

Upon hearing that, Stewart said: “How does he know how I’m going to sleep? As long as my mother doesn’t snore, I’ll be all right.”

So Stewart no doubt will be able to cope with this disappointment. After all, Arnold Palmer lost a seven-stroke lead to Billy Casper on the back nine in the U.S. Open here in 1966. No one thought less of Arnie.

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Besides, Stewart knows the reason he lost. It was spelled out for him as he approached on 18, where the three traps in front of the green form the letters I.O.U.

No kidding. Ask any member of the Olympic Club.

The message is clear. Don’t mess with golf.


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