"I hit some really key shots that morning," Els says. "I birdied 17. I birdied the par-5 15th hole. I made a really good par save on the 14th hole. Those were really big saves I made, and they gave me a little bit of belief going into the final [round]."
On Sunday afternoon Els trailed the trio of Lehman, Maggert and Montgomerie by a shot as his ball rested short of the green on the par-4 10th. On the NBC broadcast Johnny Miller made a prescient call just as Els clipped the ball.
"Not a hard little pitch shot at all," Miller said as the ball landed. "Makeable."
The ball rolled into the left side of the cup. The battle was joined at four under.
"The four-way shootout," Els says.
Tommy Roy, NBC's lead producer, knew he was in the midst of a special Sunday by the timing of the shots hit by the four protagonists. During most tournament broadcasts, with players in contention spread throughout the pairings, it's inevitable for many shots to end up shown on tape delay. "There are seven guys hitting at the same time, and it doesn't have the same juice or electricity," Roy says, "but on that day we were able to go to all of the guys live to hit their shots. It worked out where one group would be walking and the next group would be hitting, and I'm sure the tension for the audience at home was increased that much more. It was dumb luck."
Dan Hicks was broadcasting from one of NBC's outer towers at Congressional, and he sensed the excitement too. During a commercial break an NBC camera showed Clinton on the steps of one of the towers. Hicks decided to break the tension of a major-championship broadcast. "So I take it upon myself to provide some entertainment," Hicks says. "I launch into a Clinton impression, which is slightly above lounge act. 'Oh, it's a great championship. It's incredible. The U.S. Open is here,' and I'm doing it for like five seconds until I hear this voice going in and out."
It was Roy, fumbling with the buttons in the truck, trying to alert Hicks. "It was the only time I ever choked," Roy says. "Finally I found the right button. 'Dan, he can hear you!' The network had given Clinton an IFB (interrupted feedback system) to monitor the broadcast, which included the byplay between announcers and the truck. Hicks hadn't a clue.
"My heart starts pounding," Hicks says. "As I saw [Clinton] on the monitor, he actually had a little smile on his face, as if to say, 'There is some clown out there with NBC doing an impression of me.' I was crestfallen that I had done this lame impression. We have had numerous chuckles about it since."
Passing beneath Clinton on the 16th hole, Lehman and Maggert made matching bogeys, Maggert in the midst of a free fall that would end in a round of 74. "It was over for me at 16," Maggert says.