Andy North held on, despite going four over par on the final five holes, to win the 78th U.S. Open yesterday.
"There will be no winners against an Open course like this, only survivors," the 28-year-old professional from Madison, Wis., predicted after he took a two-stroke lead Friday. He was so right. North finished one over-par, at 285, after slipping to a three-over 74, but it was good enough to edge veterans Dave Stockton and J. C. Snead by one stroke.
North was four under for the tourney, firmly in command, midway of the front and back nines yesterday. But he bogeyed the eighth, ninth and 10th holes to open the door for the opposition. Birdies on 11 and 13 enabled North to regain a four-stroke advantage, but he bogeyed the 19th, double-zogeyed the 15th when he left his first blast in a sand trap and nearly blew a two-stroke lead coming to the 18th green.
North needed only to bogey the last hole, after Stockton had bogeyed. But North's iron from the tee found the right rough. He came out of the high grass crisply, only to wind up in the left rough in front of a trap guarding the green.
There appeared to be little reason for worry. North had a stroke to spare - but he needed it, because his third shot was a blooper, into the trap.
"I'd one it to myself. Nobody was going to get me out and up from there but me," North observed.
And he blasted out beautifully, to within four feet of the cup.
All that remained, in order for North to capture the first major victory of his career, was to sink that putt.
Gary Player, his playing partner, putted out.
North surveyed the contour of the green carefully, from the far side of the cup.
He stepped up to the ball, then backed off as the wind that had helped push his ball up the 18th fairway gusted slightly.
Again North prepared to putt . . . and again he backed off when the wind kicked up.
Finally, with much of the hugh gallery (25,000 paid) and a national television audience looking on. North stroked the putt. It was perfect, into the back of the hole. And North joined a steadily growing list of players who some observers thought "weren't ready" to handle such a demanding assignment.
North posted rounds of 70, 70, 71, and 74 to take first money of $45,000, increasing his reason's total to $137,981. His last tournament title came in 1977 at Westchester Classic. But North was seventh in the Croshy, fourth in the Tournament of Championship, ninth in the Heritage, second in the Tournament of Champions and second in the Kemper Classic this year - with a majority of those good efforts being fashioned over the tour's more difficult layouts, if not quite as difficult as that of Cherry Hills.
The last time an Open Winner failed to better par was in 1972, when Jack Nicklaus gained his third championship with a 290 at Pebble Beach in California.
Nicklaus wound up with Player, Tom Watson, Andy Bean, Johnny Miller and Billy Kratzert in a tie for sixth place this year, at 289. This group was one stroke behind Tom Weiskopf and Hale Irwin, who tied for fourth, two shots behind Snead and Stockton.
Weiskopf, with a 68, and Watson and Irwin with 70s, shot the best scores among the leaders yesterday. Nobody really made a run at North. Nicklaus started out briskly with a couple of birdies, to come to one over par, but he skulled an iron shot on the fourth hole, leading to a double-bogey 6, and never threatened again.
Player played poorly, failing to post a birdie until the 17th. The Masters champion, who must have entertained thoughts of "Grand Siam," was only one stroke behind North at the start of the closing round.
North played excellent golf early. He sank a seven-foot putt for a birdie on four, then reached the par-5 fifth green in two and two-putted for a birdie to quickly build a four-stroke lead over Player and Snead.
Peer iron play and a three-putt green at No. 10 were responsible for North's bogey-bogey-bogey string going to No. 11. It was there, after he hooked his drive sharply into exceptionally tough rough, that it appeared he might be coming back to the field.
But a beautiful long iron out of the rough and an excellent pitch from the left rough to the green set up a 12-foot birdie. Then, on No. 13, North's approach was short, bouncing into a 10-foot-wide area of rough between two traps guarding the green. But the ball kicked onto the green - and North sank the 25-foot put for another birdie to go back to three under for the tournament.
A bogey on No. 14, when he was short of the green with his iron from the left rough, did not appear to be too costly. But when North caught the right trap on No. 15, and didn't get out on his first attempt, a comfortable four-shot bulge had quickly shrunk to one stroke over Stockton.
North then parred 16 and 17, coming out of a trap smartly at 16 to preserve his lead. That brought everything down to the 72nd hole and, eventually, the four-foot putt the winner made on his third set-up.