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.
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