Faldo drove in the rough—which he does once a papal election or so—and hit his approach shot 35 feet above the cup. He rolled his first putt six feet by. Strange took his divining rod and struck pay dirt from 30 feet for birdie. As the putt fell, Strange celebrated with a one-knee-down, 7-come-11 craps roll. Faldo then missed his comeback putt—and there was a two-shot swing and a three-shot Strange lead. Faldo never recovered. After all those years of taking everything but the big pots, Strange was finally cashing in.
In hindsight, it was a lock that Strange and Faldo would end up in Velcro-to-Velcro combat. For one thing, they're two models rolled off the same assembly line: Strange, 33, handsome, one of the top players in his country, married, two children, a straight, short hitter, an unflappable putter, with a temper retooled since the time Arnold Palmer had to scold him for scaring an elderly scorekeeper with a tantrum; and Faldo, 30, handsome, one of the top two players in his country (along with Masters champion Sandy Lyle), married, one child, an extremely straight driver, insufferably efficient (he won the '87 British Open at Muirfield by making 18 pars in the final round), with a swing retooled by—egad!—a Florida teacher, David Lead better of Orlando.
Then there was the history of the Open at The Country Club, which made it seem almost mandatory that there be a playoff. Even a sportswriter could see the symmetry in this one. Seventy-five years ago there was a playoff at Brookline, in which an unknown local, 20-year-old Francis Ouimet, fought another British invasion by bettering the dynamic duo of Ted Ray—like Faldo, the reigning British Open champ—and Harry Vardon. (To commemorate the event, Mac O'Grady went to Ouimet's old house on Clyde Street, across the street from the course, before his round on Friday morning and rubbed his putter against the place for good luck. He missed the cut anyway.) And 25 years ago there was a playoff in which Julius Boros fought off an Arnie invasion—O.K., Jacky Cupit was there, too—to win his second U.S. Open. So why not make it three for three?
The week's drama at The Country Club included a few hitches—like a bomb scare in the wee hours on Sunday. Police searched the premises and found nothing. Bostonians were outraged by a short article in Golf Digest that many readers felt was insulting to the Irish. The story, written by British journalist Peter Dobereiner, referred to the end of the 19th century and said, in part, "It's getting so that you can't walk around Boston without tripping over a drunken Kerryman." Not smart anywhere, but especially not smart in Boston, where Mayor Ray Flynn and thousands of his constituents are of Irish descent. On Monday, before the tournament began, stacks of the magazine, which had been distributed with the Sunday edition of The Boston Globe, were dumped into the harbor in a ceremony dubbed the Boston Tee Party. (Not all writers were persona non grata as a result, however. Author and avid golfer John Updike, who lives in nearby Beverly Farms and belongs to the Myopia Hunt Club, donned the official green-and-khaki Open uniform and marshaled the 7th hole at The Country Club on Thursday and Friday.)
The extraordinary thing about The Country Club was that even though this was a U.S. Open, the players actually liked the course and the way it was set up. The rough was not bad, they said; the greens were not hard, either. It sure didn't seem like the Open. On Thursday, for instance, Lyle missed the fairway seven times and still shot 68 to share the lead with Bob Gilder and Mike Nicolette. On Friday, defending champion Scott Simpson, who had a first-round 69, made eight birdies for a 66 and a one-shot lead over Larry Mize.
Eight birdies? An Open course usually won't give up eight birdies in two days. For the whole tournament, quaint old Brookline surrendered more sub-par rounds than any other U.S. Open. What was this, Pensacola?
Gilder was a strange sight, too. For the past four years he has been racing cars as a hobby, but he hasn't won much fast money playing golf lately. He was 100th on the money list in 1987 and was 104th this year going into the Open. Still, by Saturday evening he was only one stroke behind Strange, who had shot 70, 67 and 69, the third one including the miss of a three-footer on the 17th.
What was not so strange was the sight of the Pretty Good White Shark, Greg Norman, losing to the same thing he always encounters in major tournaments, Cursed Fate. Even with his friend Larry Bird in the gallery on Thursday, Norman couldn't avoid being slam-dunked by bad luck. On the 9th hole of Friday's round, his seven-iron hit his ball and a rock all at once. "Something had to give," said Norman. It was his left wrist. He parred the hole to remain at four over for the Open and then hit his tee shot at the 10th. But the pain was too much, and he withdrew from the tournament. With his arm wrapped in ice packs and supported by a sling, he left the course and flew by private jet to the Birmingham office of Dr. James Andrews, surgical mender of Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens's injured shoulder in 1985. Andrews announced his diagnosis that night: sprained wrist. It was the most attention a wrist had had since Princess Di wore two watches.
Norman's mentor, Jack Nicklaus, took an unhappy nostalgia tour. He missed the cut at Brookline in 1963. He missed the cut in '88. Took the guy 25 years at The Country Club to get in four rounds.
So what you had scattered among the living Sunday morning were three men who were trying to live down their reputations: Two of them, Simpson and Faldo, as "fluke" winners of majors; and one, Strange, as a golfer who wins everything but majors. But this time, things would be different. Like a marathon runner, Strange seemed to be career-peaking for the Open. After he out-dueled Hale Irwin last month at the Memorial tournament, Irwin said, "He is the best player in the world." Strange wished Irwin hadn't praised him so lavishly. "I still say it's someone else," Strange said last week, "and I will until I prove it to myself."