PINEHURST, N.C. -- It was not exactly the usual scene for a player walking up the final fairway tied for the lead in a major championship.
Here was Simon Hobday, not out of the U.S. Senior Open lead since the third hole on Friday, striding up the 18th fairway of Pinehurst No. 2 late yesterday afternoon, sticking out his tongue and grasping his throat in the "choke" signal.
Not without reason, either.
The native of South Africa had managed to turn a possible runaway triumph into a nail-biter -- a situation in which as many as three players could win, lose or tie in a matter of moments on the 72nd hole.
But Hobday two-putted for a par on 18, playing partner Graham Marsh bogeyed the hole and Hobday was the champion.
Hobday struggled to a 75, 4-over-par for this wonderful course in the North Carolina sandhills, and a 72-hole total of 274, second-lowest in the event's 15-year history. The 75 was the highest last round for a winner by two strokes.
"That wasn't to relieve any tension; it was the truth -- I was definitely choking," Hobday said. And playing companion Jim Albus said: "That wasn't the first time, either. He'd done it several times earlier in the round."
Albus (74) and Marsh (70) tied for second at 275. Albus went over the 14th green and missed a 4-foot par putt. It was Albus' third consecutive runner-up finish in the past three weeks.
Hobday, nicknamed "Scruffy," said: "Ahead of time, I didn't think a 75 had a prayer to win. I figured 71 at the worst.
"The worst part of a bad score is you let so many players back in the tournament. Two or three are not too bad, but you don't want to let Nicklaus, Floyd, people like that have a chance."
He didn't need to worry.
For the most part, other possible challengers were not faring any better.
Behind the top three, it was two strokes back to Tom Wargo, Dave Stockton, and Tom Weiskopf at 277, and two more back to Bob Murphy, Jay Sigel and Jack Nicklaus.
"I was under terrible pressure," Hobday said of his closing round. "My swing deserted me, and the worse I swung, the worse I putted. I must have gone through at least two packs of cigarettes. Once, I know I had two going at the same time."
From 7:45 a.m. yesterday, it was Hobday's tournament to lose.
He had a two-shot lead with five holes left of his rain-interrupted third round.
Two birdies got him to 15-under, but he lost those with a double bogey at the par-3 17th ("I cold shanked it into the trees and was still off the green in 3. It could have been worse."), then birdied the 18th for 66199, 14-under to 12-under for Albus.
Some 4 1/2 hours and a nap later, the main characters were back at work. So were the perverse gods who had had Hobday and Albus playing so well for three rounds.
Hobday: bogey-bogey-bogey. Albus: birdie-bogey-bogey.
The margin ranged between two and three strokes until Hobday's bogey at the 15th. Two holes later, another Hobday bogey dropped him back to 10-under.
More important, it dropped him into a tie with Marsh, a Senior Tour rookie at 50, but winner of 56 events worldwide. Marsh had birdied the 495-yard 16th, hitting a 4-wood to the green and two-putting.
"When Simon made a birdie at 13 from the boondocks, I thought it was over," Marsh said. "Then things started happening to him -- double bogey-bogey -- and it was a little bit of a shock to suddenly be there [tied for the lead].
"As for me, I'm a defensive putter, and I didn't hit the ball firmly enough in the afternoon."
At 18, playing in the last group with Hobday and Albus, Marsh hit a 5-iron that hit the green and rolled off into a valley on the right. He chipped -- "fat" -- to 14 feet and ran the par putt to the lip.
Hobday still had some work left, which, the way he was playing, created some excitement. "I was just thinking fairway, middle of the green, two putts," he said.
"I had 160-161 yards to the pin and hit a 6-iron. I didn't want to be short. I didn't have the nerve to up-and-down it from the front there."
He said the first putt looked to be 40 feet, although it was less, and "the second one was 8 feet, wasn't it?"
Actually, it was about 2 feet, and when the ball fell out of sight, Hobday dropped his putter, knelt and kissed the ground several times.
Asked about his plans for the evening, the champion said, "I'll just go with the flow . . . and there'll be plenty flowing, too. You can bet on it."
NOTES: Bruce Lehnhard, of Fairfax, Va., finished 75-294; Mike McGinnis, head pro at Holly Hills CC, 74-300; and Labron Harris ** Jr., of Glen Echo, Md., and winner of the 1962 U.S. Amateur on No. 2, 80-306. . . . Bobby Nichols recorded back-to-back eagles at the 16th and 17th holes, hitting a 238-yard 3-wood shot to three feet at the 495-yard 16th and hit a 6-iron shot into the cup at the 190-yard 17th. He wound up 68-292.
Simon Hobday, $145,000 66-67-66-75274
Jim Albus, $63,419 66-69-66-74275
Graham Marsh, $63,419 68-68-69-70275
Tom Weiskopf, $30,608 72-66-72-67277
Tom Wargo, $30,608 69-70-68-70277
Dave Stockton, $30,608 74-67-68-68277
Bob Murphy, $21,651 71-70-71-67279
Jay Sigel, $21,651 73-66-70-70279
Jack Nicklaus, $21,651 69-68-70-72279
Isao Aoki, $18,313 69-71-73-67280
Lee Trevino, $17,169 69-71-72-69281
Ray Floyd, $16,044 69-68-74-71282
Dave Eichelberger, $14,280 74-72-69-69284
Gary Player, $14,280 72-67-73-72284
Rocky Thompson, $14,280 70-74-69-71284
Mike Hill, $12,760 72-68-70-75285
Dewitt Weaver, $11,429 74-73-70-69286
Jim Ferree, $11,429 71-75-69-71286
Kermit Zarley, $11,429 74-68-71-73286
Bob Dickson, $9,070 76-73-69-69287
Mike Joyce, $9,070 74-73-69-71287
Calvin Peete, $9,070 73-70-72-72287
Jim Colbert, $9,070 72-74-69-72287
Gibby Gilbert, $9,070 73-73-68-73287
Jimmy Powell, $7,288 70-76-73-69288
Dale Douglass, $7,288 72-68-74-74288
Jack Kiefer, $6,589 69-75-71-74289
Larry Ziegler, $5,738 71-76-75-68290
a-Johnny Stevens 75-71-74-70290
Larry Mowry, $5,738 72-73-72-73290
Tommy Aycock, $5,738 74-70-73-73290
Chi Chi Rodriguez, $5,050 70-76-76-69291
Bill Hall, $5,050 70-76-73-72291
Terry Dill, $5,050 70-74-72-75291
Ben Smith, $5,050 71-73-72-75291
Bobby Nichols, $4,292 76-73-75-68292
Larry Laoretti, $4,292 75-73-76-68292
Bob Irving, $4,292 76-72-74-70292
Charles Coody, $4,292 74-73-73-72292
Marion Heck, $4,292 76-70-73-73292
Bill McDonough, $4,292 76-72-71-73292
Bob E. Smith, $3,690 75-73-74-71293
Jim Dent, $3,690 75-74-70-74293
a-Vinny Giles 71-70-75-77293
Tommy Aaron, $3,164 72-76-72-74294
Bruce Lehnhard, $3,164 75-72-72-75294
Steve Bull, $3,164 70-72-76-76294
Jim Stefanich, $3,164 76-72-69-77294
Tom Shaw, $3,164 69-72-74-79294
Ray Vanyo, $2,562 72-77-74-72295
J. C. Snead, $2,562 71-75-75-74295
Bill Krickhan, $2,562 74-75-72-74295
Bill Lytle, $2,318 72-69-80-75296
Jack Rule Jr., $2,318 71-73-77-75296
Jim Collart, $2,230 76-71-79-71297
a-Robert Housen 76-72-74-75297
Miller Barber, $2,139 74-75-76-73298
Dick Howell, $2,139 73-76-75-74298
Arnold Palmer, $2,139 74-74-73-77298
Dean Sheetz, $2,051 73-74-76-76299
Wayne Carey, $2,051 68-73-78-80299
a-John Reichert 74-74-78-74300
Mike McGinnis, $2,022 75-73-78-74300
Gary Wiren, $2,000 75-72-76-79302
Robert Pfister, $1,978 76-72-79-78305
Buddy Overholser, $1,945 76-73-79-78306
Labron Harris, $1,945 72-77-82-75306