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North's seven-year wait for another win ends at bizarre US Open

Andy North, who won the US Open that kept trying to ``go south'' in terms of all its weird happenings, is making a strange sort of history. He has won two tournaments in the past seven years -- and each time it was the national championship. He thus already leads such greats as Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson by one Open.

North was an unlikely winner of an unusual Open that saw none of the game's leading players able to mount a late charge.

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Any expert would have expected lurking contenders Seve Ballesteros, Tom Kite, and Lanny Wadkins -- not to mention defending champion Fuzzy Zoeller -- to run at the lead on the last day. But their bids were as watered-down as the rain-soaked Oakland Hills course, a ``monster'' that was rendered relatively placid by the soggy conditions.

North, the man who can win only the Open, found eight bunkers along his erratic way Sunday but still outlasted the field to finish first with a four-over-par 74 in the closing round and a 279 total.

T. C. Chen, the pride of Taiwan, who led for three days, self-destructed in the fourth round, making a horrendous eight on the par-4 fifth hole and following it with three straight bogeys. He tied for second finally with Denis Watson of South Africa and Dave Barr of Canada, one stroke behind North.

At least, therefore, North prevented a foreign sweep.

Bernard Langer, the West German who won the Masters, missed the 36-hole cut along with such luminaries as Watson, who is having all sorts of putting difficulties; Jack Nicklaus, who is coming off knee surgery; PGA champion Lee Trevino; and Ben Crenshaw, among others. The players at the airport Saturday morning were more impressive than those left at the course.

One theory is that the superstars came to Oakland Hills expecting it to play as fiercely as it did for past Opens, most notably the one Ben Hogan won in 1951. Watson speculated that there would be scores above 90 (there weren't) and that par wouldn't win (it did).

Instead, the course played without the anticipated horrors. The rough was short and the greens were softened by the persistent cold moisture. It felt more like the Russian Open than the US Open in suburban Detroit.

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Chen, who probably didn't understand enough English to heed all the dire early predictions, went out Thursday and scored the first double eagle in the Open's 85 years on the par-5 second hole by holing out a 256-yard three-wood.

On Sunday, however, he became the first player in memory to dissipate a large lead with a quadruple bogey, or a ``double par'' as he called his ghastly eight.

He drove well on that fateful fifth hole, but pushed his 4-iron second shot badly to the right of the green, in trees and rough. His punched third shot stayed in the rough, and, on his fourth swing, he did an amazing and stunning thing. He hit the ball twice. The rules count a multiple hit as one stroke plus a penalty stroke. Another shot to the green and two putts added up to eight.

That wasn't the only weird rules situation of the week, however.

Denis (the other) Watson lost the tournament, it turned out, on a bizarre two-stroke penalty in the first round. He waited 35 seconds for a ball on the edge of the cup to drop in, which it did, but 25 seconds too late according to the rules. If that seemed overly severe, particularly on a day marred by truly slow play all around Watson, it was.

The US Golf Association, which runs the Open and also makes the rules, reportedly is considering reducing the penalty to one stroke, or increasing the time allotment to 30 seconds, or both.

Meanwhile North, who like Chen was given less than a Chinaman's chance of winning, shot a 65 the second day, made a succession of saving six-foot putts on Saturday, and hung on for dear life Sunday as everyone else faltered even more than he did.

Andy made a wonderful sand shot to save par at the 17th, then needing only a bogey on 18 to win the tournament, he played it safe and settled for just that. Coincidentally, he also had shot 74 on the last day and bogeyed the closing hole when he won the Open at Cherry Hills in Denver in 1978.

If the Open, as is often said, is a survival test won as much with patience and persistence as shotmaking and tactics, North is a fitting victor.

He is a low-key, pleasant native of Madison, Wis., where he still lives. At 6 ft 4 in., he resembles the former all-state high school basketball player he was before he set off for the University of Florida and a serious golf career.

Until he won his second Open, he was seriously considering a career change to high school coaching. He earned only $22,000 last season, and $52,000 prior to the Open. At age 35, he had to be wondering about his future on the tour. But he carried on and won his country's most important title.

He's $103,000 better off after last weekend and figures his playing career has been prolonged by several more years. By which time, of course, he probably will emerge from nowhere again to win another US Open.

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