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Payne Killer
John Garrity
June 29, 1998
For the second time in six years, Lee Janzen put a hurt on Payne Stewart to win the U.S. Open
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June 29, 1998

Payne Killer

For the second time in six years, Lee Janzen put a hurt on Payne Stewart to win the U.S. Open

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Until last week, San Francisco's Olympic Club seemed to behave like a rebellious daughter whenever it hosted a U.S. Open—that is, it invariably picked the wrong man. Jack Fleck over Ben Hogan in 1955? Billy Casper over Arnold Palmer in '66? Scott Simpson over Tom Watson in '87? It was as if that city, famous for its fringe lifestyles, couldn't abide a conventional outcome or the establishment's choice. Tony Bennett four-putts from 10 feet, while Country Joe McDonald holes out from the fairway.

Lee Janzen broke that string on Sunday, making up seven strokes in 15 holes to win the Open for the second time. And he did it just as he had in 1993 at New Jersey's Baltusrol Golf Club: by outplaying Payne Stewart with the help of a merciful tree, a final-round chip-in and his own unwavering concentration.

Janzen is not an emotive player. When he waves to the crowd, his elbow stays close to his body. His eyes seem a little wary, as if he expects something unpleasant to happen. But there were tears in those eyes after Stewart missed the tying putt on the 72nd hole. "I went out and played my absolute best," Janzen said, "and won the one championship I love more than any other."

There is no doubting that he was at his best on Sunday. He played the demanding Lake Course in two-under-par 68, while no other contender shot better than 73. He hit 11 of the 14 narrow, tilted fairways and 14 of the 18 tiny, parched greens. "Lee seems to play his best in the difficult tournaments, in difficult conditions," says his good friend and fellow Tour player Rocco Mediate.

Janzen proved that last fall, when he nearly saved the Ryder Cup for the U.S. with a gutsy one-up singles victory over Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal at Valderrama. He has struggled this year with his putter—a malady treated last week by the Austin short-game doctor, Dave Pelz, who found that Janzen was aiming left of the hole on mid-range putts and aiming right on short ones—but Janzen does not fit the profile of the usual Olympic Club winner. He is neither unsung nor unloved.

Still, there was that history hanging over the tournament, so an inordinate amount of attention was paid to golfers who couldn't afford to stay at the luxury hotels on Nob Hill. You had 34-year-old Joe Durant, for instance, a fast-talking pro from the Florida panhandle who confessed that his short game was "very poor." You had Mark Carnevale, 38 years old and Stadleresque in build, who won the Chattanooga Classic in 1992 but has ridden the choochoo on the Nike tour for the past two years. And you had Lee Porter, a 32-year-old veteran of the Asian and South American tours.

Was one of them the next Fleck? No. But Durant shot an opening-round 68, Carnevale was in the top 10 after three rounds, and Porter lingered like Hogan's worst Olympic nightmare, holing his approach on 18 for an eagle on Friday and riding the leader board on Saturday.

Then you had Matt Kuchar, the 20-year-old junior from Georgia Tech who was bidding to become the first amateur to win the national championship since Johnny Goodman in 1933. Justin Leonard, for one, found two days with the always smiling youngster hard to take, complaining that Kuchar's caddie/father, Peter, was too boisterous in his appreciation of his son's touch on the greens. But then, Leonard was stumbling to 40th place, while the U.S. Amateur champion was making pars and shrugging happily on his way to a 14th-place tie. Not since the days of legendary hustler Titanic Thompson had someone so seemingly guileless played such cutthroat golf.

Another good story had its epicenter down the peninsula. Four former or current Stanford players were in the field, and two of them—Tom Watson and Tiger Woods-were among the pretournament favorites. But local knowledge didn't seem to help. Stanford junior Joel Kribel missed the cut by a bunch, Watson missed by a little, and Woods showed that he still has not learned how to avoid the ugly hole. On his way to 18th place he four-putted twice, looking like the man who spills coins and bills from his pocket while taking out his keys.

That left only one happy Cardinal, the celebrated Nike tour pro, Casey Martin, who made history as the first disabled player—the first player, period—to ride a cart in a major championship. Martin got in through sectional qualifying and judicial fiat, but he proved he was no sympathy case. He finished tied for 23rd on a golf course known for its steep slopes and treacherous stances. "It's over," he said, hugging his brother, Cameron, afterward, but to the press he spoke only of beginnings: "I think I can play well enough to be a fixture out here."

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