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1997


Ernie Els

Ernie Els, 27, of Fancourt, South Africa, won his second Open title in four years, outlasting three others down the stretch at Congressional Country Club, in Bethesda, Md., over the longest Open Championship course.

Els survived a four-way battle, finishing with five consecutive pars to take the title with a 4-under 69 -- 276, by one stroke over Colin Montgomerie, by two over Tom Lehman, and by five over Jeff Maggert.

Lehman, at 2 under, led by two strokes over Maggert and Els heading into the final round. He was three ahead of Montgomerie. But by the time the last two groups headed to the final nine holes of the championship, all were tied at four under.

Els was the first to make a move, chipping in from 30 feet on the long difficult 10th hole, moving to five under. He gave the stroke back when he bogeyed the 13th, and the stretch drive began.

The telling hole was the 480-yard 17th, where all but Els bogeyed.

Maggert scored a double-bogey 6 there, and suffered bogeys on holes 16 and 18.

Lehman, who now has finished second, second and third at the last three Opens, saw his hopes drowned when his 7-iron approach to 18 bounced off the bank in the water. "I'd give anything in the world for a mulligan," said Lehman.

The last to fall overboard was Montgomerie, who lost in a playoff to Els in 1994. His approach at 17 landed in heavy rough. He chipped to within four feet but missed the putt and a chance to win.

Els played the 17th with a 3-wood, 5-iron, sticking his approach shot 18 feet to the right, guarding against any chance that his ball might catch the water on the left.

"Seventeen was probably the shot of the tournament for me," said Els of his 5-iron to the green from 212 yards away. "Winning U.S. Opens doesn't come easily. I really worked hard for this one."

Els became the 17th player to win two or more Opens, and only the first foreign-born player since Alex Smith (1906 and 1910) to win more than one.

Like many other players, Els was caught in the rain on Friday and Saturday. The result was that many had to finish a few holes in the morning before picking up with the day's intended round in the afternoon. For Els, that meant he had to finish five holes of his third round on Sunday morning, beginning a 7 a.m.

He birdied holes 15 through 17, pulling himself back into contention at 3 under. He needed only six putts on those five holes, giving him momentum for the afternoon.

Playing in the next to last group with Montgomerie, Els never three-putted and several times saved par from eight feet. He led for the first time all week when he chipped in on 10.

The first-round leader was Montgomerie, who shot 5-under 65, the low score of the week. Maggert made charge with his second-round 66. Els had a 67, and followed that with two rounds of 69.

Coming off his 1997 Masters win, Tiger Woods finished in a five-way tie for 19th place at 6-over 286. He shot 74 on Thursday, before jumping back into contention with a 67 on Friday.

Playing in his 41st consecutive Open, Jack Nicklaus, age 57 became the oldest to survive the cut. His son, Gary, also earned a place in the field, the fourth time a father and son have played in the same Open. Gary missed the cut; Jack finished tied for 52nd.

No amateurs made the cut. But Joel Kribel, a senior at Stanford, came close. He finished his second round bogey-bogey-triple-bogey, missing the cut by one.

For the second time in Open history, the President attended. President Bill Clinton spent Sunday afternoon watching play at 16 with his daughter Chelsea.

The 1997 Open received a record 7,013 entries, nearly 800 more than the previous record established in 1992. NBC and ESPN televised the Open for a record 28 live hours. And for the first time, The Golf Channel carried several of the post-round press conferences live.

OPEN RECORDS


Starts - 16

Best Finish - Winner 1994, & '97

Rds - 61

Cuts Made - 14

Top 3 - 3

Top 5 - 5

Top 10 - 7

Top 25 - 10

Avg. - 71.98

Scores In 60s - 12

Rds Under Par - 13

Earnings - $1,979,231.75
Historical Notes
On Oct. 4, 1895, the first U.S. Open Championship was conducted by the United States Golf Association on the nine-hole course of Newport (R.I.) Golf and Country Club.
The first U.S. Open was considered something of a sideshow to the first U.S. Amateur, which was played on the same course and during the same week. Both championships had been scheduled for September but were postponed because of a conflict with a more established Newport sports spectacle, the America's Cup yacht races.
Ten professionals and one amateur started in the 36-hole competition, which was four trips around the Newport course in one day. The surprise winner was Horace Rawlins, 21, an English professional who was the assistant at the host course. Rawlins scored 91-82-173 with the gutta-percha ball.
Prize money totalled $335, of which Rawlins won the $150 first prize. He also received a gold medal and custody of the Open Championship Cup for his club for one year.
In its first decade, the U.S. Open was conducted for amateurs and the largely British wave of immigrant golf professionals coming to the United States.
As American players began to dominate the game, the U.S. Open evolved into an important world golf championship. Young John J. McDermott became the first native-born American winner in 1911 and repeated as champion in 1912.
In 1913, the U.S. Open really took off when Francis Ouimet, a 20-year-old American amateur, stunned the golf world by defeating famous English professionals, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in a playoff.
Another surge in the championship's popularity coincided with the amazing career of Georgia amateur Bob Jones, who won the U.S. Open four times (1923, 1926, 1929, 1930). Spectator tickets were sold for the first time in 1922 and a boom in entries caused the USGA to introduce sectional qualifying in 1924.
In 1933, John Goodman became the fifth and last amateur to win the U.S. Open. The others were Ouimet, Jerome D. Travers (1915), Charles Evans Jr., (1916), and Jones.
In each era, the world's greatest players have been identified by surviving the rigorous examination provided by the U.S. Open. Ben Hogan's steely determination boosted him to four victories (1948, 1950, 1951, 1953). Arnold Palmer's record comeback win in 1960, when he fired a final round of 65 to come from seven strokes off the lead, cemented his dashing image. Jack Nicklaus' historic assault on the professional record book began when he won the first of his four U.S. Open Championships in 1962, his rookie season as a professional.
Nicklaus, who also won in 1967, 1972, and 1980, is one of only four golfers to win four U.S. Opens. The others are Willie Anderson (1901, 1903, 1904, 1905), Jones and Hogan.
In 1954, the U.S. Open course was roped from tee to green for the first time. That year also marked the first national television coverage. Coverage was expanded by ABC Sports in 1977 so that all 18 holes of the final two rounds were broadcast live. In 1982, on the ESPN cable network, the first two rounds were broadcast live for the first time. NBC began televising the U.S. Open in 1995.
The format of the U.S. Open has changed several times. The USGA extended the championship to 72 holes in 1898, with 36 holes played on each of two days. In 1926, the format was changed to 18 holes played each of two days, then 36 holes on the third day. In 1965, the present format of four 18-hole daily rounds was implemented for the first time.
In 2002, a two-tee (Nos. 1 and 10) start was used for the first and second rounds. In addition, Bethpage State Park's Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y., was the first facility owned by the public to host a U.S. Open. International qualifying sites were added in 2005 and the champion at Pinehurst Resort in N.C. was Michael Campbell, who qualified in England.