U.S. OPEN: Olympic Club famous for those who just missed winning

SAN FRANCISCO – The Olympic Club has hosted four previous U.S. Opens. Each has been decided by a single stroke or in a playoff. They all have been historic, mostly for who didn’t win.
In 1955, Ben Hogan was trying to win this major for the fifth time, which would have left him with one more than Willie Anderson, Bobby Jones or Jack Nicklaus on the all-time list. There are those who contend he really has a handful anyway, since he won what was considered to be an unofficial Open during World War II. But we digress.
When Hogan finished, NBC actually went off the air announcing him as the winner. Oops. Journeyman Jack Fleck, using a new set of Hogan irons, then birdied two of the final four holes for a closing 3-under-par 67 to tie for first at 287. In the playoff, he was ahead by three after 10. But the margin was one by the time they reached 18. Hogan hit his drive into the rough and made a double-bogey 6. Fleck, who didn’t break 80 in any of his practice rounds, parred to win by three.
He would win one other PGA Tour event, five years later. But he did win the 1977 PGA Senior Championship. And Hogan’s last major title would remain the 1953 British Open, which completed his Triple Crown that year.
In 1966, Arnold Palmer was going for his eighth major, and second Open. And it looked like he was going to do it, after shooting a 32 on the front nine of his final 18 to take a seven-shot lead over Billy Casper. But he came home in 39, and Casper caught him with a 32 of his own on the back.
In the playoff, Palmer was once again ahead at the turn, this time by two. But he made bogeys at the 11th, 14th and 15th. Then he doubled 16. With a 69, Casper _ who had won the 1959 Open at Winged Foot _ won by four. In 1970, he added the Masters to his resume.
For Palmer, it was his third Open playoff loss in five years. And, as it turns out, the 1964 Masters would be his last major title. By the way, a 19-year-old local amateur named Johnny Miller, who had signed up for caddie duty before qualifying _ tied for eighth. Seven years later, he closed with that 63 at Oakmont to claim the trophy.
In 1987, nice guy Scott Simpson held off Stanford product and eight-time major winner Tom Watson, who had been trying to make it nine since collecting his fifth British Open four years earlier. Watson was up by one going into the final day before bogeying three of the first five holes.
Simpson opened with a birdie but bogeyed three of the next four. Watson moved in front with birds at 8 and 9. Simpson, after seven consecutive pars, drew even with a bird at 14. Then, playing in the next-to-last group, he went in front for keeps with a bird at the par-5 16th, which Watson parred.
Simpson got up-and-down out of a bunker to save par at 17, where Watson also had to scramble for his 4. Simpson nearly birdied 18 from 45 feet. Watson, after spinning his wedge approach back onto the front collar, came up inches short on a 35-footer to tie. So the 1983 British Open would remain his last big-time moment, although he did nearly pull off an all-timer 22 years later in Scotland at the age of 59.
The closest Simpson ever came again was 1991, when he squandered a late lead in regulation and again in the playoff against Payne Stewart in the Open at Hazeltine.
Speaking of Stewart, in 1998, he led by four through 54. But he closed with a 74, opening the way for 1993 champion (at Baltusrol) Lee Janzen to get another. Janzen’s 68 left him one in front of Stewart, who couldn’t convert a tricky birdie attempt at the last. When Janzen won five years earlier, Stewart finished second, that time by two.
What many folks remember most about 1998 was the hole location at 18 on Friday, where Stewart missed an eight-foot birdie putt and wound up with a 25-footer coming back (which he also missed). But the following June, Stewart would get his third major (to go along with his 1989 PGA Championship) by sinking an indelible 20-foot par putt on the 72nd hole at Pinehurst No. 2 to beat Phil Mickelson. Five months later, Stewart was among the victims of a private airplane tragedy.
This week, another story line will play out. Tiger Woods has won two of his three Opens on the West Coast. He has finished second in majors to Zach Johnson, Y.E. Yang, Michael Campbell and Trevor Immelman.
NOTE: Padraig Harrington, Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink, Y.E. Yang, Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Keegan Bradley and Bubba Watson.
For better or worse, that’s what the golf world has become since Tiger Woods went on this prolonged sabbatical. The last 14 majors have produced as many different winners. Only three had ever won one before. It’s the longest streak since there were 15 consecutive different winners starting with the 1994 PGA (Nick Price) and going through the 1998 U.S. Open (Lee Janzen). Of that group, nine had never won a major before. Seven haven’t won another, with the exceptions being Woods (1997 Masters) and Mark O’Meara (1998 Masters). And O’Meara added only one more, at the ’98 PGA Championship.

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