Els chipped it out into the fairway and, karma being what it is, right into a sandy divot. He chunked it out of there to the frog hair and made a gritty two-putt for the tie.
Roberts could have won outright, too, and very probably should have. Roberts has neither the pedigree nor the future that his playoff opponents have. Were it not for his wonderful putting (the caddies call him Boss of the Moss), Roberts, 40, might be back selling sandwiches out of the pro shop snack bar at Morro Bay (Calif.) Municipal Golf Course. His first PGA Tour win came at Bay Hill this winter. On Saturday at Oakmont he put up a tournament-low 64 and suddenly, incredibly, he was facing an easy par putt on the 18th hole Sunday that, as it turned out, would have won him the championship.
"I couldn't have asked for a better putt to win the Open," Roberts said afterward. "Four feet, right up the hill, little left-to-right. And I'm thinking, This could be for the U.S. Open."
Uh-oh. Double hex. The putter wobbled on the way back, and the ball gave the hole the cold shoulder. Bogey. "I could have made that putt and gone home and had a new life," Roberts said. Instead, he drove back to the Holiday Inn and got a new room, lay down and tried to sleep with himself.
As for Montgomerie, who finished before Roberts and Els, he had had his own putt on 18 that would have won it all, a birdie try that came up short. But the 31-year-old hit his pillow Sunday in the best frame of mind of the three, for he thought he had finished one shot out until not one but two leaders fell right back into his lap with 72nd-hole bogeys. "I never really had an opportunity to take the championship, so I feel better about being in a playoff than everybody," he said. "But if I can relax tonight, I'm superhuman."
And that's how we ended up with a playoff among three guys who could walk into Three Rivers Stadium and not turn a head, but three guys who were hoping that Oakmont had made them wait long enough.
By Monday afternoon, the wait had ended only for Els. As he stood on the 11th green, letting Oakmont and its gallery finally wash him with cheers and whistles and well dones, he must have noticed the 100-year-old silver chalice that goes to the winner, noticed the handles on it, and maybe he said to himself, Now that's a permanent movable object.