MEDINAH, ILL., JUNE 17 -- Mike Donald didn't see Hale Irwin's victory dance at the 18th green. He didn't see Irwin's 45-foot putt race over a hill, break sharply to the left and find its way into the cup. He doesn't remember hearing the biggest roar of the 90th U.S. Open.

But he saw what it meant soon enough. He saw the grinding numbers change on the scoreboard somewhere around the 10th tee and remembers thinking, "My God, he's also at eight-under."

Donald was nine under par at that moment and all he faced was eight of the most difficult holes golf can offer. The U.S. Open was on the line, creating a splendid, relentless pressure for anyone, especially one who has a single victory (1989 Anheuser-Busch) in 11 years on the pro tour but now stands on the edge of stardom.

Donald survived that pressure this sweltering afternoon. He lost only one stroke to par on those eight holes, knocked in a difficult putt on 18 and now will be part of the 13th Open playoff since World War II.

After four days and 72 holes, Irwin and Donald finished with scores of eight-under-par 280 and will decide the Open in an 18-hole playoff Monday afternoon.

"It's the chance of a lifetime," said Irwin, aiming for his third Open title. "I'm emotionally spent right now, but I'll be ready. There were 160 golfers here. Now there's two. I hope he plays well. I hope I play well. I hope it comes right down to it."

Irwin, who began the final round with 19 players ahead of him, would like to win, but the rebirth of his career is already complete. He was one of golf's biggest winners in the 1970s and early '80s, then took about a five-year leave of absence to design golf courses and watch his children grow. He has homes in Maui and St. Louis. He is successful.

"I've got my businesses up and running on their own," he said, "and I've got time to devote to golf. Believe me, 45 isn't old. Hale Irwin has some good golf still in him."

He's playing in his 21st Open, won it in '74 and '79 and is trying to become the oldest Open champion ever. He's one of the game's classiest and most popular players, and after finishing his round -- including a dazzling 31 on the back nine for a five-under-par 67 -- did about a dozen interviews, then spent an hour on the air with ABC as Donald finished.

"I'm drained, absolutely drained," he said. "Watching him play was almost as hard as playing myself."

He's playing a guy at the other end of the spectrum. Donald, 34, has been one of the dozens who has had to play every tournament and cash every check to make ends meet. Walking the 18th fairway, he turned to his caddie/brother and said, "Hey, this is what I've been playing 20 years for."

"Win, lose or draw, I'm a winner," he said. "I think I've already moved up another level. But I'd sure like to be the big winner."

Donald and Irwin survived on a day Donald began tied with first-time Open player Billy Ray Brown for the lead. But 31 players were within five shots of the lead, and over the course of the day, some of the game's biggest names -- particularly Greg Norman and Nick Faldo -- made runs at it.

Brown shot a 72 that left him a shot off the lead, same as Faldo. He missed the playoff when his 10-foot birdie putt on 18 missed by inches.

"I guess it wasn't meant to be," he said. "I was happy to be in this and not fold. Maybe next time I won't fold either."

He was around the top of the leader board longer than some others. Jack Nicklaus began the day four shots off the lead, and after a birdie on the 385-yard first hole, was only three back. But he bogeyed 12, 13, 15 and 16 and finished with a 76 and 289 for the tournament.

Likewise, Curtis Strange never got into the fight. He was attempting to become the first man in 85 years to win three straight Opens, and after a 68 on Saturday, began the final round two strokes back.

But he had a terrible day, five bogeys and two birdies. His worst moment came on the 581-yard seventh hole. He left a 285-yard second shot far short of the green and said: "I knew it was over after that. I could kick myself in the butt. I don't like to second-guess myself, but I should have hit a 3-wood. I could feel it slipping away after that."

At 286, Strange ended just one shot ahead of Montgomery County's Webb Heintzelman, whose 68 was bettered today only by the 67s of Irwin and Steve Jones and earned him a tie for 24th place.

Special tournaments usually are won by special players. Enter Irwin. He began the day four shots off the lead and was five back after a bogey on the 180-yard second hole.

He was six back when he stepped to the 11th tee, which is where the magic began. He fired a 7-iron second shot to within six feet of the hole and went four under.

He lofted a 5-iron to within four feet of the cup on the 462-yard 12th and converted to go five under. Birdies followed on 13 and 14 and when he walked down the 18th fairway, he was 45 feet from the cup and seven under par.

"You have to believe it's makeable," he said. "I knew I was due one and that I had one more chance. It got real exciting in a hurry on the back nine and I felt I had to get at least to eight-under to have a chance. I didn't think seven would do it. I'd missed one on 16 that disappointed me. But, hey, you can't despair when there's still a chance."

What followed was one of those golf shots that will live forever. Millions of Americans have already watched his dance around the green with fist in the air. He shook hands, slapped hands.

He was off the course at 280, and with the winds whipping around Medinah, he had given Donald a very small target. "I guarantee you Hale Irwin just won the U.S. Open with that putt," Norman said at the time.

Irwin had walked the green several times surveying the final putt and said: "To be honest about it, I felt comfortable with that putt. I didn't know I'd make it, but I felt comfortable, maybe more comfortable than an 8-, 10-, 12-footer where you feel you have to make it."

The dance "wasn't planned. But I don't know how you can remain stoic after something like that. If you're out there all alone and you do it, you're happy. When you do it with ringing in your ears, it's special."

Norman and a lot of others never figured Donald would survive. He had begun the day with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2, then picked off 13 straight pars.

Not all were routine. Donald made a 25-foot putt on the 462-yard 12th hole and a 15-footer on the 545-yard 14th. His putter finally failed him from 12 feet on the 426-yard 16th. But, after missing a 40-footer for the championship on the 18th, he made a three-footer for the tie.

"Hale has always been very nice to me," he said, speaking of Irwin the way others speak of Nicklaus or Hogan. "He said some nice things to me in Houston last year when I had a chance to win and introduced me to his wife and daughter at the mall the other night. This is really special for me. You can't go through something like this and not learn. I just went out there and was determined not to let it get to me."

Mike Donald* .......67....70....72....71....280

Hale Irwin* ........69....70....74....67....280

Nick Faldo .........72....72....68....69....281

Billy Ray Brown ....69....71....69....72....281

Mark Brooks ........68....70....72....73....283

Tim Simpson ........66....69....75....73....283

Greg Norman ........72....73....69....69....283

* Will play 18-hole playoff today starting at 1:15 p.m. (WJLA-TV-7, WJZ-TV-13 at 4 p.m.).