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Dan Jenkins
June 23, 1969
As all the other contenders wilted around him, Orville Moody, a former Army sergeant with a cross-handed putting style, managed to survive a broiling Texas sun and a treacherous course to win the U.S. Open
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June 23, 1969

Old Sarge Cools It

As all the other contenders wilted around him, Orville Moody, a former Army sergeant with a cross-handed putting style, managed to survive a broiling Texas sun and a treacherous course to win the U.S. Open

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"I won it for Lee," said Moody later, also in all seriousness. "It took a lot of guts for him to believe I could win." And then Orville Moody wept, along with a lot of other Moodys, his wife, Doris, and his two children. They had been out at some Holiday Inn in Houston where the nonnames were. Orville Moody had been driving to the course, from about an hour away, which was even a better reason to weep, some thought. But the tears came from the delirious joy of it all. Tears are very popular in sports these days.

He never expected to go out and shoot a 72, two over par, in the final round and post a total of 281 and take the U.S. Open. But Moody's 72 was a pretty good score on Sunday. Only two players broke par and only five others equaled it. The greens were not only huge but hard so that nothing held, and the wind came up from somewhere, and all of the pins were either way back or snuggled close behind enormous bunkers. From seven to 10 players had broken par on each of the previous three days, and Miller Barber's 54-hole total was, after all, four under. But Open courses are generally styled to achieve the magic total of 280, and Champions was certainly a worthy 280 golf course. It figured that Barber would come back toward the field on Sunday, although it didn't figure he would come back so far.

"I don't think I'm a choker," said Barber after his horrible 78 round. "I've just got to go hide somewhere and try to figure out what happened to me."

Orville Moody, who was paired with him, said he thought he knew. "I think Miller was trying to coast," said the sergeant, who looks like a sergeant should. "We all knew it would be a hard course the last round, and that nobody was likely to get a 66 going. I think Miller felt he could coast along and win with a 73 or 74, and he just got too cautious."

Like almost all U.S. Opens, this one truly exploded on the final nine holes. It made everything that came before as obscure as the rut iron, including all of the talk about Mr. X and Geiberger's peanut-butter sandwiches and could Palmer do it or not. Palmer's immense crowds thought he could, and they stayed with him all the way—all the way to his tie for sixth. There were a couple of moments when Palmer could have got right in it, but each time, with a chance to do something sensational, he would do something dumb. Like a poor chip or a missed birdie or follow up a birdie with an aggravating bogey.

When Barber soared to four-over on the outgoing nine, he knocked down the fence for everyone, including Palmer. There was a crazy interlude on the back nine when eight players were only two strokes apart, and if Champions had been a course where the contenders could have gone at the flags with clubs they were familiar with, there might have been a charge or two. But it was always a question of who could make a par, who could rip off a drive and tear up a one-iron and survive the hard-to-read Bermuda greens. It was simply a question of who could survive.

For a whole hour during the final drama, only Al Geiberger, rising from the depth of his peanut-butter jar, was able to put a bunch of birdies on the board—five of them in eight holes. And until he did that, few people knew that Al Geiberger had made the cut. By now, Miller Barber was out of it and Deane Beman's four-wood was worn to a thread, and really only two men remained, Orville Moody and Bob Rosburg.

On the course Rosburg stopped to chat with friends on the 16th tee. "One birdie and two pars would be 280," he said. "I believe that might get it."

"Three pars would get a tie," somebody told him.

"I might even win my bet on no 280," he grinned.

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