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Remembering The Final Round In 1999

June 14, 2005

The six years seem to have passed so quickly that the moments and memories from the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst remain vivid in the minds of those who played a part in that final-round drama. The first Open to be played at the celebrated No. 2 Course evolved into a battle among four of the game's top stars, all with their own back stories:

• Payne Stewart, then 42, a disappointed runner-up at the Olympic Club in San Francisco a year before, was leading by a shot with 18 holes to play and seeking his second National Open championship.

• Phil Mickelson, Stewart's final-round playing partner, had turned 29 the day before the championship. Though winless in majors, Mickelson was adamant that he would make it home to Arizona to be with his wife, Amy, for the birth of their first child, even if it meant leaving with the lead during the final 18. Which, at the Open, is on Father's Day.

• Also lurking near the lead were Tiger Woods, 23, and Vijay Singh, 36, Woods looking for a breakthrough of his own in the Open, and Singh, the reigning PGA champion, looking for his second major victory.

Under unseasonably cool and misty conditions that Sunday, the course played tough but fair. Each of the top-four finishers shot par or better in the final round (Singh's 69 matched the best of the day; Stewart, Mickelson and Woods all shot even-par 70).

Ultimately the Open came down to the final pairing of Stewart and Mickelson, with a Monday playoff looming after Stewart found the rough and a bad lie with his tee shot on the 72nd hole. Acting on a Saturday-night putting tip from his wife, Tracey ("Keep your head still"), Stewart had already made putts of 25 feet for par at the 16th hole and four feet for birdie—and the lead—at the 17th.

After a conservative layup and approach to the 18th, Stewart faced an uphill putt he estimated at 15 feet—the longest ever holed to win an Open outright. It became even more epic four months later after Stewart's death in a plane crash.

Golf Digest talked with dozens of the principals and those on the periphery of that amazing day—and those at the celebration that night that stretched well into Monday—to get recollections of what happened and what might have been.

THE PRELUDE

Chuck Cook, Stewart's swing coach: Tracey told him, "No matter what happens, we love you." Hicksy [caddie Mike Hicks] told him, "Trust your swing. Trust yourself." I told him, "You've done this. You know how to do it. These other players haven't done it." Then I said, "Well, I guess that's it, we're about out of clichés."

Roger Maltbie, NBC on-course commentator: I talked to Payne before the round and was struck by how calm he was. He'd lost a pretty tough one the year before, and you'd have expected him to be a little tighter than he was. That made an impression.

Dick Coop, Stewart's sport psychologist: I was wearing a short-sleeve rain jacket and tried to give it to him, but it didn't fit. Payne never liked much on his forearms when he was playing; the cuffs were tight and he didn't like feeling restricted. I went to try to buy him one like mine, but before I could he had taken a pair of scissors from the teaching center there on the driving range and cut the sleeves off.

Dan Hicks, NBC: We saw that on our monitors, and I remember thinking, Here's a guy who's one of of the most stylish golfers we've ever seen, taking a pair of scissors to his rainsuit because it didn't feel right. This guy is pretty intent on taking care of business today.

Jim (Bones) Mackay, Mickelson's caddie: One of my favorite memories from that day was when the players left the range to go to the first tee they had to walk across the 18th fairway. And those were the biggest bleachers I've ever seen, down the left side of that fairway. When we walked across the 18th, everybody in those bleachers—and there were thousands and thousands of people there already—went nuts, cheering. They knew they weren't going to see those guys again for another 4½ hours, and as fate would have it, they saw quite a finish when we finally got back.

Mike Hicks: Payne was all business that day, really in the zone. I remember on the fifth hole he hit into a sand-filled divot; we had four of those for the week, two on that hole. But he had practiced those shots, so he hit it on the green and two-putted. He just dealt with it. You learn in that tournament not to get surprised at anything that happens.

THE BABY AND THE BEEPER

During the week, a good deal of attention was focused on the fact that Mickelson's wife was expecting the couple's first child any day. Mickelson brought a beeper from Amy, which was kept in his bag and monitored by Mackay. Mickelson repeatedly told a skeptical media, "If that thing goes off, I'm going to high-tail it out of here."

Amy and her doctor gave Mickelson the go-ahead to play in the championship, but Amy kept her condition and her contractions a secret from Phil until it was over. Mickelson flew home Sunday night, and after hours of replaying the final round in his mind, he went with Amy to the hospital Monday morning. Their daughter, Amanda, was born at 6 p.m. Monday in Arizona—only hours after a playoff would have concluded at Pinehurst.

Amy Mickelson: We talked before Phil left for Pinehurst about what we hoped would happen. Phil said, "I'm going to go win the U.S. Open, then we're going to have the baby, and it's going to be the best week of our lives." We also talked about one other scenario, and I said, "What are the chances that you're leading on Saturday night and I go into labor?"

Mackay: Phil let me know early in the week, "If this goes off, I don't care what's going on, where we are, I want you to let me know." That was clear. He would have left in a second. That I can guarantee you.

Amy Mickelson: From the time Phil left for the tournament, things really sped up, and the doctor wanted to see me every day. On Thursday he said, "If you had looked like this before he left, I wouldn't have let Phil go."

Phil's a sweet husband, but he wanted to play if he could. We felt it was a great venue for him, the way Pinehurst set up. Then, basically, Saturday night the one-in-a-million scenario we talked about was almost happening: Phil was one shot out of the lead, and at 6 p.m. I started having contractions. I'm freaking out. My mom and dad took me to the hospital, and I was there until midnight or 1 a.m. The doctor did what he could to slow the contractions and sent me home with a sleeping pill.

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