97th U.S. Open/June 12-15, 1997
Congressional Country Club Blue Course, Bethesda, Md.
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|Ernie Els, South Africa||71||-||67||-||69||-||69||—||276|
|Colin Montgomerie, Scotland||65||-||76||-||67||-||69||—||277|
|Tom Lehman, United States||67||-||70||-||68||-||73||—||278|
|Jeff Maggert, United States||73||-||66||-||68||-||74||—||281|
|Olin Browne, United States||71||-||71||-||69||-||71||—||281|
|Jim Furyk, United States||74||-||68||-||69||-||71||—||282|
|Jay Haas, United States||73||-||69||-||68||-||72||—||282|
|Tommy Tolles, United States||74||-||67||-||69||-||72||—||282|
|Bob Tway, United States||71||-||71||-||70||-||70||—||282|
At age 27, Ernie Els bagged his second U.S. Open much like he did his first in 1994 at Oakmont Country Club — the South African outlasted a list of five-star contenders who mysteriously melted away.
This was a good year — and a stellar site — to become a king of golf.
Earlier in the year, Tiger Woods dazzled the world with his runaway victory at The Masters. He was now an up-and-coming professional (who did approach the leaders at Congressional at the midway point before folding).
Suddenly, golf was seeing a bump in popularity. A record 7,013 golfers tried qualifying for this national open. NBC Sports’ live coverage had been expanded. It was a great time to start marketing greatness.
Els was certainly on the cusp of that. And even though he was not in the best form coming into this U.S. Open, he hung around — and finally joined the championship fray with a nifty chip-in for birdie at the 10th hole.
As good as Els was, many were pulling for the hard-luck Lehman, who was the overnight leader by two shots. He became the first golfer to lead after 54 holes in three consecutive U.S. Opens since Bobby Jones in 1928-30.
Jones won two national opens (1929, 1930) with that distinction; Lehman would painfully be shut out.
Of all the moments of misery for Lehman, none would match what happened late Sunday at the 17th hole. Trailing Els and Colin Montgomerie by one stroke, Lehman faced a 190-yard downhill approach shot from the fairway.
He later admitted it was the ideal distance for a 7-iron. All he had to do was cleanly strike it.
Lehman didn’t, instead digging up too much turf. The ball clunked on the side of a mound and retreated back into a pond, ending his title pursuit.
“I would give anything in the world,” Lehman told reporters later, “for a mulligan.”
All that was left was a mini-meltdown by Montgomerie, who at that time was endlessly heckled in the United States. On the 17th hole, he waited out the commotion for five minutes, then badly missed his 5-foot putt to save par — ending his championship hopes.
Montgomerie had one last crack at tying Els on the finishing hole but missed a 25-footer for birdie.