Olympic heroes of the US Open

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The Independent Online
1955: Jack Fleck

ON ITS debut as a US Open venue, Olympic immediately established itself as a stage on which the game's leading players would perform to the peak of their ability only to be upstaged by understudies at the moment that the final curtain was poised to descend and the applause was already beginning to ring out. Jack Fleck, in the first year of an otherwise undistinguished career as a tour professional, birdied two of the last four holes to force a play-off with Ben Hogan, who at the time was the world's most revered golfer and bidding for a fifth US Open title. In the 18-hole decider, Fleck breezed round in 69, one under par, while Hogan, his stamina sapped by the legacy of a car crash which had nearly killed him some six years previously, battled gamely to stay in touch before double-bogeying the 18th for a round of 72. Only seven rounds bettered par that week and Fleck provided three of them, including his play-off effort.

1966: Billy Casper

NOT ONLY did this provide one of the most spectacular collapses in the game's history, but it also signalled the end of Arnold Palmer's reign as its dominant player. Having begun the final round three shots clear, the great man raced to the turn in 32, at which point his second US Open title looked to be in the bag. By the time he reached the 10th he held a seven-shot lead and his sights were set more on breaking Hogan's US Open record score of 276 than merely claiming his eighth major. But a combination of superb golf from Billy Casper and careless errors by the swashbuckling Palmer brought the pair level on 278 at the end of the final round. In the play-off, Palmer led by two strokes at the turn only to fall foul of the back nine again, and his 73 left him four shots adrift of Casper, who had also won the 1959 US Open. Casper went on to claim the 1970 Masters. Palmer's major-winning days were over.

1987: Scott Simpson

THIS TIME it was Tom Watson who surrendered the lead - and ultimately the championship - to a late run of birdies from an unheralded opponent. In an eerie echo of previous championships at the course Watson, the winner of eight majors, looked set to add this title to his 1982 US Open triumph only to run into difficulties over the closing holes. Entering the final round, he held a one-shot lead and it looked as though his three- year victory drought might soon end. But Scott Simpson, a journeyman who had won only three times on the US Tour compared with Watson's total of 31 victories, suddenly turned the tournament completely on its head with successive birdies at the 14th, 15th and 16th to close on 277, three under par. Watson needed to birdie the 18th to force a play-off, but his pitching- wedge approach spun wickedly back to the front fringe of the green and his 45ft putt to tie finished inches from the cup.

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