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Pavin Catches the Wind, Seizes the U.S. Open

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 19, 1995

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y., JUNE 18 -- The answer to taming Shinnecock Hills was blowing in the wind today, and Corey Pavin had all the right responses. A day of typically gritty golf by the 35-year-old Californian paid off with the first major championship of his career, a victory in the 95th U.S. Open that also will be remembered as another lost opportunity for runner-up Greg Norman.

"I thought when the wind started to kick up that even par would be a great score today," said Pavin, who shot 2-under 68 for an even-par total of 280, two strokes better than Norman, who shot a 73. "It's a thrill beyond words. This trophy won't get too far away from me the next few weeks."

The day's defining shot for Pavin -- who until today wore the label of being the best American player never to win a major -- was a 4-wood from the 18th fairway that bounced 10 feet in front of the green, hopped onto the putting surface and came to rest five feet from the pin. Pavin sprinted 30 yards up the fairway to watch the outcome. When he saw where the ball had stopped, he pumped his arms in ecstasy, then sat on his haunches to collect his breath and thoughts.

"It was probably the best shot I've ever hit under pressure," he said.

The resulting par was crucial, because minutes later Norman bogeyed the 17th hole, meaning the 40-year-old Australian had to sink his second shot from the fairway on the 18th hole to force a tie and an 18-hole playoff on Monday. It didn't happen. Norman's last chance, a hooked 7-iron, was just off line to the left, and landed in the rough. He managed to par the hole and finished two shots short.

Pavin was in the NBC-TV booth when Norman's second shot at 18 finally came down, and commentator Johnny Miller said the words Pavin has been yearning to hear for years: "Corey Pavin, U.S. Open champion."

"That sounds awesome to me," Pavin said through his headset, and his broad smile needed no further analysis.

With ocean gusts in the 25 mph range again playing havoc with most in the field, Pavin's final round and score of 280 was one more stroke than Raymond Floyd needed to win the Open at Shinnecock Hills in 1986. Pavin earned $350,000 and all the pride and privileges that go with winning his country's national championship.

Norman, who was 5 under after 36 holes this week, was 7 over in his last two rounds. He went 32 consecutive holes without a birdie until he finally sank a three-foot putt at the 15th to get within a stroke of Pavin. But Norman nevertheless insisted, "I won't lose any sleep" over finishing second.

Maybe that's because he's used to this sort of treatment at golf's major events, from Bob Tway's blast out of the bunker to win the 1986 PGA Championship, to Larry Mize's miracle playoff chip to win the '87 Masters, to Paul Azinger's dramatic playoff victory in the '93 PGA Championship after two putts by Norman just missed going in. Norman is used to the feeling by now -- it was the seventh time he's finished second in a major.

Poor putting again was the story today for Norman, who started tied for the lead with playing partner Tom Lehman, the third-place finisher with a 74 -- 283. Lehman also could look back in dismay at so many missed opportunities, then one last disaster -- a double-bogey 7 at the 544-yard 16th hole after a drive in the rough.

There was an early sense that this was not Norman's day on the first hole, when his second-shot wedge at the 394-yard hole hit the top of the flagstick with a loud clank and kicked 20 feet back and just off the green. Had the ball missed the stick by an inch, it almost certainly would have been stiff to the pin for an easy birdie putt and a big confidence boost.

It was like that all day for him. And when he bogeyed the 12th and 13th holes to fall two shots behind Pavin, it became mostly a lost cause -- especially after Pavin had birdied the 15th with a 12-foot putt to get to even par for the tournament.

This was a day of botched opportunities for many others in the field. Bob Tway, at one point leading early in the back nine, let things slip away with three bogeys in his last five holes and faded to 285.

Phil Mickelson, at one point tied for the lead at 1-under, had his hopes for victory dashed when he double-bogeyed the 16th, a hole he never figured out this week. He played it in 6 over par with two bogeys and two double bogeys. He finished at 284, in a six-way tie for fourth.

Davis Love III had his second collapse down the stretch in seven days after his fold at Kemper last week, missing several putts inside three feet today, including a 2 1/2-footer at the 16th that would have gotten him within a stroke of Pavin. Then he double-bogeyed the 18th and joined Mickelson and the others at 284.

Pavin, who has missed the cut in the U.S. Open six times and hadn't finished the tournament better than tied for eighth, was not about to let this one slip away. Two weeks ago, after missing cuts in three of his four previous PGA Tour appearances, he changed putters and finished tied after 72 holes with Lee Janzen at last week's Kemper Open before losing on the first playoff hole.

He's always had a reputation as a man for all seasons and courses, if only because he can hit so many types of shots. He can put the ball high or low, left or right. And even though he gives up huge distance to most of the game's big hitters, he gets even with brilliant iron play and a deft touch around the greens.

Before the trophy presentation late today, Norman whispered congratulations in Pavin's ear and said he told Pavin "welcome to the club" of major champions.

Norman does have two, both in the British Open, and two months ago finished third in the Masters.

Said Norman, gracious again after a disappointment, "Corey Pavin, to do what he did today under these conditions, which were just as difficult today as they were yesterday, he's a deserving champion."

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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