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A Blast From The Past
Barry McDermott
June 24, 1985
Andy North hadn't won since his '78 Open, but he hung tough and triumphed at Oakland Hills Sunday as Taiwan's T.C. Chen finally folded
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June 24, 1985

A Blast From The Past

Andy North hadn't won since his '78 Open, but he hung tough and triumphed at Oakland Hills Sunday as Taiwan's T.C. Chen finally folded

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For the likes of Tom Watson (75-72—147), Lee Trevino (76-72—148), Jack Nicklaus (76-73—149), Bernhard Langer (74-76—150), Ben Crenshaw (78-72—150) and Craig Stadler (70-80—150), this was a two-day tournament. They all missed the 36-hole cut of 146, six over par, leaving the headlines to such obscure players as Chen and Barr, who had started the year by failing to earn a nickel in his first six events. For a brief spell on the back nine Sunday Barr held a two-stroke lead, but he must have realized this wasn't the Quad Cities Open, and from then on his whippy backswing looked like a slicing machine gone mad. He staggered in, bogeying the final two holes and failing to hit five of the last six greens. "The monster bit back today," said Barr, referring to Oakland Hills' nickname.

He wasn't the only one suddenly given new life by Chen's collapse. Payne Stewart was two under par after 12 holes, just one stroke off North's pace, but he bogeyed the 13th, 14th and 18th. British Open champion Seve Ballesteros played a spotty round of 71 and tied Stewart and Lanny Wadkins (70) for fifth place, only two shots off the lead. A lot of people had trouble sleeping Sunday night.

One of those probably was Denis Watson. In the first round the South African was given a two-shot penalty for dawdling over a ball resting on the edge of the cup of the 8th hole. It was imposed by one M.T Johnson, a USGA official and Amarillo cattleman who wears an eye patch. Johnson came running up as Watson left the green, like a cop handing out a traffic ticket, and called two strokes after Watson had let his ball hover on the edge of the cup for the 35 seconds it took to drop in. A player has only 10 seconds before he must tap in such a putt. Those two strokes gave Watson a double-bogey 6, not a par 4, and cost him dearly; remember, he finished just a stroke behind North. But he wasn't bitter. "I put the penalty out of my mind on Thursday," he said.

North, going for his second Open victory, was fighting not only the course but also his reputation for being a fluke champion the first time around. "Who says it's a fluke?" North bristled Saturday afternoon when a reporter quizzed him about his 1978 Open win, one of his two previous victories. After a 1983 operation for a bone spur in his right elbow, North won only $22,131 last year. He had missed the cut in three of his last four tournaments leading up to Oakland Hills.

You wouldn't have known it Sunday, but it was North's driving that keyed his win. He was putting well, too. Hunched over and gripping way down on the shaft of his club, a cramped style that developed from the putting miseries he had as a kid, North seemed able to figure the treacherous putting surfaces, part of the reason he suffered only three bogeys in the first 54 holes. He holed almost everything from six feet in and made a couple of long ones, including a transoceanic 60-footer that hydroplaned across the 16th green on Saturday rainy Saturday, an afternoon that might have been the wettest in Open history. It rained steadily through the round, and North gave up on his rain jacket. "I knew I was going to get wet," he said. With a towel draped over his shoulders, he looked like a sodden refugee from a Midwestern flood, but he hung tough, finishing within two strokes of Chen. Guts.

At the start of the tournament, Tom Watson predicted scores in the 80s and 90s. Then along came Chen. He was a late starter Thursday, and after a par on the 1st hole and a nice drive at the 2nd, he was 235 yards from the green. The pin was another 21 yards back. Chen took out his MacGregor three-wood and swung, and the ball, a Wilson Staff Tour 432, headed toward history. The shot hit the front of the green, rolled gently up to the cup and dropped. "There were only a couple of fans standing there, and they didn't even clap because they were holding beers," said Ralph Landrum, Chen's playing partner.

Chen played the rest of the day like Lee Mackey, another first-round Open wonder who shot 64 in 1950. (Mackey had 81 the next day.) Chen birdied the 3rd hole, hitting a three-iron to four feet, and notched four more birds, against three bogeys, for his 31-34—65.

No one thought Chen, a three-time winner in Asia but a non-winner in the States, could hold up the next day, much less the rest of the tournament. Chen was still in front after two rounds, but Jay Haas with a 66 and North with a 65 proved that Oakland Hills' wimpy rough and soft greens had made the course vulnerable. Twenty-four players broke par on Friday. Two years ago at Oakmont, the penalty for driving into the rough figured out to .85 of a stroke. At Oakland Hills, the figure was .43 on Thursday and .40 Friday, and it would drop to .38 Saturday and .31 Sunday.

On Saturday, in the locker room before his round, Chen sounded less than positive. "This is major tournament," he said. "I never think to win tournament. If I would win, I would say lucky." Then he went out and played an almost perfect round in the monsoon, hitting 14 greens, shooting a 69 with three birdies and two bogeys. His only mistake came at the 17th hole, where he blasted from a bunker, then missed a two-foot putt because he was distracted by rain dripping off his cap. Said Chen, "Today I hit it ball pretty good. I will try to do my best, uh-huh."

Came Sunday, and the uh-huh turned to oh-no. Chen gambled once too often with the treachery of Oakland Hills, and it was the inscrutable A.S. North who had the patience to win.

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