Golf: Els stands firm to thwart Montgomerie

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Ernie Els has been this way before. Unfortunately, so has Colin Montgomerie. The US Open is the longest test of grinding golf in the game and it took Els 92 holes for him to claim the championship in 1994. The 27-year-old South African claimed the title for a second time with a final round of 69 in regulation play after the possibility of a four-way play-off over 18 holes today loomed for much of a tension-filled afternoon at Congressional.

Montgomerie, the leading European for the fourth time in his six US Opens, had bowed out of the play-off at Oakmont with a 78 before Els went on to beat Loren Roberts at the second hole of sudden-death. He could not avenge that defeat despite also returning a 69, while Tom Lehman and Jeff Maggert fell away at the end with rounds of 73 and 74, respectively.

That Montgomerie emerged as Els's most serious challenger was due to a back nine in which he produced par after par, twice getting up and down from off the green, until the 17th. He had bogeyed the hole in his third round at breakfast time and did so again when he missed the green on the right, chipped to six feet and could not hole the putt.

Els had put the pressure on by hitting a superb approach over the flag and although he missed his birdie chance, he knew when both found the heart of the green at the par-three last, the title was again within his grasp. Although he pushed his first putt four feet past, he calmly holed the one back for the $465,000 (pounds 290,000) first place cheque.

"Winning US Opens is not easy," said Els, who finished at 276, four under and one ahead of Monty. "I really worked hard of this one. I just tried to believe in myself and my game. I prayed out there."

Montgomerie had immediately caught his South African playing partner, who began two behind Lehman, with a birdie at the first. Both bogeyed the sixth and birdied the seventh. Els took the lead by himself at the eighth, but then failed to get up and down at the par-five ninth, where Montgomerie holed from five feet for a birdie. The Scot produced the best outward half of the leaders, a 33 to Maggert's 34, Els's level par 35, and Lehman's one over 36.

But Els, the last next-best-thing before Tiger Woods in search of the first major of the new era not to be won by the 21-year-old phenomenon, chipped in at the 10th to join a four-way tie at four under. Birdie putts to take the lead came thick and fast with the arrival of President Clinton, Els holing one from nine feet at the 12th only to bogey the next, Lehman missing two shakily, and Maggert charging one by at the 13th to three- putt and drop back.

The reigning Open champion, Lehman, missed the green at the 14th, but got the shot back by hitting his third at the par-five next to a foot. His challenge first faded when he again missed the green at the 16th, and then sunk when he found the water at the 17th.

Lehman, third and second in the last two years, retained his record of being at the top of the leaderboard by claiming birdies two of the five holes he had left when play resumed at 7am following Saturday's thunderstorm. Els was the biggest mover with birdies at three holes in a row to get into the penultimate pairing with Monty, who went bogey-birdie for his two holes, while Maggert lost the lead he had been clinging on to overnight.

Maggertmania, however, had not seemed to be particularly rampant, even in is own home. His eight-year-old son, Matt, is, not unusually, a Tiger Woods fan. After his 66 in the second round, Maggert said to his son: "Hey, Matt, I beat your buddy again today." With no thought for Father's Day, the reply came: "Wait till Sunday, Dad."

But Woods started the final round nine back, the same margin that he was in front at the Masters. He emerged in his usual "power" red, but with a grey band along his stomach, perhaps in deference to the US Open. For those who still thought a miracle was possible, even after his third round 73, confirmation that he would not win his second professional major, would not be pursuing the Grand Slam and therefore would not be putting several bookmakers out of business with that particular achievement, came when Woods bogeyed three holes in a row from the third.

That put him four down to Nick Faldo, who had birdied the first, but Faldo himself came unstuck with a triple-bogey at the sixth. In the end, Woods scored a 72 and again dusted Faldo, 2 and 1 in matchplay terms, after the Englishman came home in 39 for a 76.

Jack Nicklaus played what is allegedly his 10,000th hole in major championships as a pro when he reached the 10th. Short of the green in two, he chipped and putted for an otherwise unmemorable par. Nicklaus's 152nd round in his 41st US Open was a 74 that left him on 13 over par.

This was the Bear's 142nd consecutive major, or the 150th he was eligible for including his eight as an amateur. Whether he will continue the streak at Royal Troon for the Open in July, something that has appeared unlikely for most of the year, Nicklaus will not decide until nearer the time. "If I'm playing well, I'll probably go, but if I'm not, I won't," he said. "I've got a couple of tournaments between then and now."

Complete final-round scores from the Congressional Country Club

US unless stated

276

E Els (SA) 71 67 69 69

277

C Montgomerie (GB) 65 76 67 69

278

T Lehman 67 70 68 73

281

J Maggert 73 66 68 74

282

B Tway 71 71 70 70

O Browne 71 71 69 71

J Furyk 74 68 69 71

T Tolles 74 67 69 72

J Haas 73 69 68 72

283

S Hoch 71 68 72 72

D Ogrin 70 69 71 73

284

S Cink 71 67 74 72

B Andrade 75 67 69 73

L Roberts 72 69 72 71

285

B Hughes (Aus) 75 70 71 69

J M Olazabal (Sp) 71 71 72 71

D Love 75 70 69 71

286

N Price (Zim) 71 74 71 70

L Westwood (GB) 71 71 73 71

T Woods 74 67 73 72

H Sutton 66 73 73 74

287

L Mattiace 71 75 73 68

E Fryatt (GB) 72 73 73 69

S Dunlap 75 66 75 71

S Elkington (Aus) 75 68 72 72

288

P Goydos 73 72 74 69

P Azinger 72 72 74 70

P Stewart 71 73 73 71

M McNulty (Zim) 67 73 75 73

H Kase (Japan) 68 73 73 74

F Zoeller 72 73 69 74

K Gibson 72 69 72 75

J Sluman 69 72 72 75

289

J Leonard 69 72 78 70,

G Waite (NZ) 72 74 72 71

M O'Meara 73 73 71 72

S Stricker 66 76 75 72

S Appleby (Aus) 71 75 70 73

F Nobilo (NZ) 71 74 70 74

J Cook 72 71 71 75

290

D Clarke (GB) 73 74 73 70

P Mickelson 75 68 73 74

D Duval 74 72 70 74

F Funk 73 70 72 75

C Perry 70 73 71 76

C Parry (Aus) 70 74 69 77

291

J Parnevik (Swe) 72 75 73 71

N Faldo (GB) 72 74 69 76

292

D White 70 72 73 77

293

L Janzen 72 73 75 73

H Irwin 70 73 76 74

J Nicklaus 73 71 75 74

F Couples 75 72 72 74

P Teravainen 71 73 74 75

P Broadhurst (GB) 77 69 72 75

294

L Mize 70 74 76 74

C Rose 72 71 73 78

295

C Smith 77 69 74 75

D Waldorf 72 74 73 76

R Butcher 70 73 74 78

S Jones 72 75 69 79

297

D Schreyer 78 73 72 74

B Crenshaw 73 74 76 74

B Faxon 72 74 76 75

T Watson 72 74 72 79

298

M Hulbert 73 73 77 75

G Kraft 77 69 76 76

J Morse 71 74 76 77

S Ames (Trin) 73 73 75 77

T Kite 75 69 82 72

T Bjorn (Den) 71 75 73 79

299

J Green 75 72 79 73

300

R Wylie 71 76 77 76

A Coltart (GB) 74 71 76 79

301

V Singh (Fiji) 77 71 76 77

P Parker 75 71 77 78

D Hammond 75 71 76 79

G Towne 71 73 83 74

D Mast 73 69 83 76

303

J Ferenz 72 75 80 76

304

M Dawson 75 71 80 78

306

S Adams 71 74 78 83

Comments