If the tee were on Mars and the green in Cleveland, Scott Simpson would come home in par.
He hits fairways, he hits greens, he has the charisma of a gravy stain. He is who the U.S. Golf Association has in mind when it pictures the U.S. Open champion.Simpson has won just five times in 14 pro years. But in his last four Opens, he has finished first, sixth, sixth and 14th. For 15 holes Sunday, Simpson stayed in his tee-to-green trance. He was ahead of Payne Stewart by two shots with three holes to play. Considering Stewart was missing every birdie putt inside 20 feet, Simpson looked like a lock.
Then he came apart on the last three holes of the only championship he was put on the pro tour to win. "Those things happen," Simpson offered. Maybe he blew a microchip.
Simpson bogeyed the dastardly 16th when his tee shot flew left into deep rough. "I was pretty much dead," he said.
Still, he needed only a par at the 18th to finish off Stewart. Simpson bogeyed again. He drove into the left rough so deep he had to pitch out to the fairway. He hit a 9-iron to within 30 feet of the hole and putted twice.
Stewart was equally heroic. He botched birdie putts at 15, 16 and 17. The one at 15 was all of four feet. None had a chance.
These two guys just grabbed that Open championship by the throat, didn't they?
Monday, we get Simpson and Stewart again, in a playoff that's scheduled for 18 holes or until everyone falls dead asleep, whichever comes first.
Of the four major championships, the U.S. Open is the only one that retains an 18-hole playoff. All this does is inconvenience everyone who supports the Open, from the army of course volunteers to the paying customers to the heathen media.
"For the sake of the fans, they should have crowned a champion today," Stewart said. "The fans deserve the right to see a champion crowned."
The USGA doesn't care. The USGA believes an entire extra round of golf is the only appropriate way to determine a champion.
The USGA's self-indulgence knows few bounds. The Masters and the PGA solve 72-hole ties with sudden-death playoffs. The other major, the British Open, went to a four-hole shootout six years ago. If four holes is enough to preserve the integrity of the British, it ought to be good enough here.
It is not. It's not even in the ballpark. For the 1995 U.S. Open, the USGA favors a three-day, 72-hole event in which the final round would consist of 36 holes.
This is because a true test of golfing skill should also include a physical challenge, don't you know. Here's an idea for the USGA bright lights: Instead of making your tournament three days, why don't you just have the players do pushups between holes?
Already, the USGA takes the best collection of golfers in the world and makes them less important than the course they're playing on.
Open Sunday should be the best day in golf. Instead, it's longer than February. Twosome after twosome slogs through in par or worse, treating the course like a minefield. The golf course always wins, because the USGA couldn't bear it if a player knocked the course silly.
The notion remains that today's players lack personality, but fans don't care much about that. Fans don't expect charisma. Only birdies. On Sunday, Simpson and Stewart combined for a whopping three birdies. Hold your applause for the end, folks.
And feel free to wonder - as everyone but the USGA does - if Monday is necessary. After one death, 16 injuries and three days of intermittent rain, haven't we had enough of Hazeltine?
Minnesota wanted big-time golf back, it got it. The locals have been great hosts; now most will go back to work, and will miss the end of the tournamwnt they built.
Wouldn't a few holes Sunday night have been better than this? Do we really need another day of Simpson and Stewart?
Simpson is not heroic. He is merely capable. Stewart, who actually has a sports psychologist on exclusive retainer, still may lack the stomach to win big.
Somebody will win, because somebody has to. Pardon us if we don't get all breathless.
It's like the old W.C. Fields joke about Philadelphia. First prize at the U.S. Open is four days; second prize is five.
As Simpson said Sunday night (as only Simpson can): "Here we are. Another year, another playoff, huh? Should be pretty fun."