April's Masters tournament gave golf a Sunday-long victory march by Tiger Woods. The gem of June, the US Open, however, produced an entirely different story line, one that found four men scrambling in a shell game to decide the winner.
South Africa's Ernie Els stood tallest at the end, winning the rain-interrupted championship on a gloriously sunny Father's Day by a stroke over Scotland's Colin Montgomerie. Americans Tom Lehman and Jeff Maggert faded down the stretch.
Meanwhile, Congressional Country Club's venerable layout tamed golf's estimable Tiger as President Clinton watched the proceedings in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Md.
Any fairy tale visions Woods might have held for recording victories in the year's four major tournaments, the Grand Slam events, were soundly dashed after he carded a 6-over-par 286 for 19th place.
Open courses traditionally make errant shotmakers pay dearly for their misplays, and Woods did, breaking par only once in four days. "I learned a lot," he said, vowing to rectify his mental mistakes.
Not to worry, there were hardly any par-busters during the Open's 97th anniversary. Only Els, Montgomerie, and Lehman were below par, and Els dipped only four strokes with his 276 total. What a way, however, to break out of a rut.
Els, who won the 1994 US Open over Montgomerie and Loren Roberts in a playoff at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania, had not been playing particularly well. He has a fluid and relaxed swing, though, and only needed a little fine-tuning. He was in a dogfight entering the final nine holes, but also knew himself capable of winning.
His victory makes him the youngest player, at 27, on the PGA Tour with two major championships and the first foreign player to win the US Open twice.
While Els was excited to get back on track, Montgomerie and Lehman were not a little exasperated to have come so close. Both golfers have known their frustrations in the big events.
Next is the British Open at Scotland's Royal Troon course, where Montgomerie should feel at home. And Lehman is the defending champion.