So what happens? Strange, Mr. Ice Man, and Nelson, Mr. Nice Man, shoot 75. Ballesteros and Nicklaus shoot 76. And Donald, who looks like a guy who should be pouring ale in an Irish pub, birdies the first two holes to give himself some breathing room, and then pars the next 13. This was the guy who went 64-82 at the Masters? Talk about poise under pressure: Donald drained a par-saving 20-footer on 12, a 10-footer on 14 for par, and made par after having driven into the fairway bunker on 15. "I played the kind of golf they say you're supposed to play in the final round of the U.S. Open," he said later. "I just kind of parred it to death."
His only slip-up came on the treacherous 16th, a 436-yard par 4 in which he failed to get up and down from a green-side bunker, leaving his putt on the lip. Donald was in good company on that hole. Faldo, who had moved to eight under, and Brown, the Open rookie who had hung tough all day, both bogeyed 16 to miss the playoff by a stroke.
Donald seemed in command during Monday's playoff as well. He, too, was living a dream: Improbable pro makes good at the U.S. Open. Donald was two strokes ahead of Irwin at the 16th, the toughest hole on the course all week, but Irwin—hitting his second-most-dramatic shot of the tournament—drew a 220-yard two-iron around an overhanging branch to within eight feet of the hole. He sank the putt for a birdie to pull within one shot. On 18, Donald made his first truly bad swing of the round, snap-hooking his tee shot into the crowd. He was forced to play into the trap short of the green and then failed to get up and down. Irwin pulled even with a par.
So it was on to sudden death—a day late, perhaps, but the USGA does things after its own fashion. Whether or not you like the way it set up the golf course, you had to admit one thing after Irwin had potted his winning birdie on the 91st hole, shattering Donald's dream while fulfilling his own: When the time came to hand out special exemptions, the USGA had hailed the right man.