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LUCKY BREAKS DELIVER OPEN TITLE TO STEWART

Champagne, courtesy of Champ Payne, flowed after the U.S. Open, but plain water made the difference.

There would have been no bubbly, no tears of joy streaming down Payne Stewart's face, if his tee shot on No. 8 in the playoff Monday hadn't plunked into a pond, struck a shallow rock and popped back out onto dry land.He might still be playing with Scott Simpson, each of them trying to cope with the vagaries of wind-blown, sun-baked Hazeltine National, if Simpson's tee shot on No. 17 had not ricocheted into a tiny water trap.

"To win championships, you have to have some good breaks," said Stewart, who celebrated in a style reminiscent of the late Champagne Tony Lema by wheeling cases of bubbly into his press conference.

With a little luck and a lot of gutsy golf, Stewart beat Simpson 75 to 77 to claim his second major title. Stewart, the 1989 PGA champion, now is aiming for the British Open and the Masters to complete his goal of a career Grand Slam.

"It wasn't outstanding golf, but the golf course was very difficult today," said Stewart, whose winning score was the worst in a U.S. Open playoff since Tommy Armour's 76 in 1927. "It tested your patience. It tested your ability. It tested your fortitude. I'm fortunate to be the champion."

Stewart rapped his knuckles on a table and said the greens were that hard.

"If the greens were like this all week long, even-par would have run away with it," he said. "It was a grind out there."

Stewart, who held or shared the lead each day, jumped ahead in the playoff as Simpson bogeyed the first two holes to pick up where he left off Sunday, when he bogeyed two of the last three.

Simpson took a one-stroke lead on No. 7 when he chipped from the rough 25 feet from the pin to 4 feet past the cup and made birdie to Stewart's par.

Stewart's first lucky break came on No. 8 when his tee shot struck a submerged rock in the pond and popped out onto the rough amid cheers from the huge crowd.

"When that happened, I said to myself, `Maybe this is your day,"' Stewart said.

Thankful not to have a penalty stroke against him, he chipped out nicely to the green but two-putted for bogey when his first putt from 31/2 feet lipped the cup and spun out.

A bogey by Stewart on the 15th - his four bogeys this round were one less than he had in the previous four days - put him down two strokes with three holes to play - exactly the same place he'd been in their duel Sunday.

"Same song, second verse," Stewart said.

This time, the ballad of Hazeltine brought a birdie from Stewart on the tough 16th - his first birdie in 30 holes - and three straight bogeys by a wilting Simpson.

Stuck behind the large, intimidating tree that leans over the 16th fairway, Stewart began his charge by lofting his second shot over the branches and putting it 20 feet from the pin. Then he read the green perfectly and sank the ball to put all the pressure on Simpson.

Simpson simply couldn't handle it, three-putting to bogey the hole for the third day in a row and the fourth time in five rounds here.

Simpson's final undoing came moments later when his tee shot bounced off a grassy knoll and into the water. He took the penalty and saved bogey with superb chip shot onto the green that he putted in.

"Obviously, I'm pretty disappointed, especially after being ahead and then losing," Simpson said.