Maybe you disagree, but Woods will win at least one of these Opens. Last week he wasted a tournament-high 14 birdies with three double bogeys and atrocious putting, including eight three-putts. He finished 19th at six-over 286. "I'm humbled," he said.
At least he completed all four rounds, something that cannot be said of John (Long Gone) Daly. For the umpteenth time Daly quit on his fans, this time somewhere in the sea of people between the 9th green and the 10th tee. Daly, only three weeks out of the Betty ford Clinic, putted out on the 9th hole (at 10 over par and in danger of missing the cut) and promptly disappeared. Playing partners Ernie Els and Payne Stewart teed off on the 10th, then turned to find no Daly. Not even Daly's caddie, Brian (Wedgie) Alexander, a guy not much bigger than the bag he was toting, knew his boss's whereabouts. They waited. Daly didn't show. They waited some more. Daly didn't show. A USGA official went looking for him. Daly didn't show. Finally, Els and Stewart went on, leaving poor Wedgie waiting by himself. When he was finally found, Daly was having a cigarette in his courtesy car. What, you can't let a few groups play through? Then Daly started the car and drove straight through to his home in Memphis—some 850 miles—which four out of five doctors recommend when you're mentally and physically exhausted.
One player who wouldn't go away was Montgomerie. Urged on by repentant Washingtonians ("Scotland! Scotland!" they chanted), he played well in the gloaming on Saturday, pulling to within two shots of the lead. For his part Lehman looked like a man who had forgotten his glasses. "We don't even like Tom to drive at night," said his father, Jim. Presumably, he was talking about cars, not golf balls, but he might have been referring to both. "I have terrible night vision," Tom said. "I never saw one of my shots land." It cost him dearly. He bogeyed two of his last four holes before play was suspended by darkness.
Els, meanwhile, was doing the kind of thing that wins Opens—loitering. By Saturday night, the South African was hanging around at even par, and on Sunday he got his five o'clock wake-up call, went out with Lehman and Texan Jeff Maggert, and wrote himself an invitation to the chase, finishing his third round with three birdies in five holes.
Els is one of those guys who like to make sure they are caught up on their foot-dangling, the sort who likes nothing more than to sit silently with a friend for 10 minutes with his hat tipped over his face, then say, "Isn't this great?" He likes his lager and is likely to be found drinking it with a bunch of caddies. In fact, he is more often going to bed at five in the morning than getting up at that hour. "Ernie is so laid-back it's frightening," Montgomerie says.
Daylight seemed to suit Lehman much better than dusk had. He started Sunday at seven playing "the five best holes I've played all week"—two birdies and three pars. The strong finish moved him to five under par at the end of three rounds, good enough for a two-shot lead over Els and Maggert. Montgomerie was another shot back. But by the time Lehman returned for his mid-afternoon tee time, he had cooled. And as the quartet of contenders made the turn, Lehman, Maggert and Montgomerie were tied at four under, a shot ahead of Els, who soon joined the first-place deadlock with a monster chip for birdie at the difficult par-4 10th. They were in the last two pairings, and they were playing some of the most thrilling golf in Open history. "It seemed like the game was on," Lehman said, so he dug in. He hit killer approach shots at 10 and 11, only to miss birdie putts from eight and four feet. "Perfect rolls," he said.
On went the double-pleated rumble. Els took the lead with a birdie at the 12th, then coughed it up on the next hole. After missing birdie putts from close range at 11 and 12, Maggert dropped out with a three-putt bogey on 13, and Lehman looked ready to join him after he bogeyed the 14th, only to come clawing back with a leaner from 107 yards to birdie the 15th. Three were tied again.
In the group ahead, Monty was making ho-hum pars by flushing his three-wood down the gut of the string-bean fairways and Els was one-putting half of Maryland. In one stretch he one-putted 10 of 13 holes.
On the 16th, Lehman missed the green by mere feet, but followed with what seemed like a perfect greenside chip. "Stop, stop, stop!" President Clinton yelled at the TV set from his box at the 17th, but golf balls are not generally under executive branch jurisdiction, and this one refused. Bogey. Els and Monty led by one.
Then Lehman came to the most dangerous hole on the course, the waterlogged, 480-yard, par-4 17th, and merely thumped his best drive of the day. Minutes before, the gum-chewing, slow-moving, happy-go-lucky Els had put his slowest and sweetest swing of the day on an unforgettable five-iron that flagged the pin and stopped eight feet behind it. What, me tense? "In all my life," Els confessed later, "I've never felt such tension." He missed the putt and marked. Then Monty took more than five minutes to hit his five-foot try for par. The Scot, who seems to have remarkable hearing, said there was a disturbance to the left of the 17th and he was unsure what was happening across the water on the 18th green, so he waited. All that dallying "got to me a little bit," said Els. "And you know, he missed his putt. I just went up and knocked mine in." Monty thus became the first athlete in history to freeze himself. Hares 1, Turtles 0.