SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- All week long, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club knocked the biggest, strongest and best golfers in the world to the treacherous, hard ground here at the 95th U.S. Open.
When the Open ended late yesterday afternoon, one of the smallest and scrawniest -- and best -- was left standing at even-par. Corey Pavin was the only one, and it didn't come as a big surprise to anyone.
Long considered one of the game's toughest players under pressure, a player whose first major championship was long overdue, Pavin shot a 2-under-par 68 to beat Greg Norman by two shots and Tom Lehman by three.
The victory was worth $350,000 to Pavin, 35, but more importantly validated his 12-year PGA Tour career that had included 12 wins and more than $6 million in prize money. It also helped Pavin relinquish the title as the best player in the world not to have won a major.
"I've been working very hard for a long time, so I'm very excited to have the monkey off my back," said Pavin. "To win the national championship, which has probably been my worst track record at a major, is a thrill beyond words."
Similar to Ray Floyd's Open victory here in 1986, Pavin squeezed his way free from a large pack of contenders that at one point during the final round included nine players within three shots of the lead and later had four players tied for the lead at 1-over.
Pavin, who came into the round three shots behind both Norman and Lehman, trailed by as many as five shots with 13 holes to play. He moved into a share of the lead with an eight-foot birdie at the par-4 12th hole. He then took the lead outright with a 12-foot birdie on the par-4 15th.
"I was very aware that put me in the lead," said Pavin. "I am a big-time leader board watcher. I want to know exactly where I stand at all times."
It was only last year that two younger, less experienced players failed to look at the leader board during similar points of a major. It nearly cost Ernie Els of South Africa his victory in the Open at Oakmont, and forced him to win in a Monday playoff. It cost Sweden's Jesper Parnevik dearly in the British Open, where he lost to Nick Price at Turnberry.
Playing two groups behind Pavin, Norman didn't look at the leader board. But he didn't have to look up when he heard the roars coming from the 18th green. "I could hear them yelling, 'Cor-ey, Cor-ey," Norman recalled, a sad smile on his face. "It wasn't hard to figure out what happened. I knew he had put it close."
What Pavin had done was win the Open. On his approach to the uphill, dogleg, wind-blown 450-yard closing hole, Pavin had smacked a 4-wood from 218 yards off the green to within four feet of the cup. "It was probably the biggest shot I've hit under pressure in my life," said Pavin.
But after closing his eyes, bowing his head and saying a silent prayer, Pavin pulled the putt, which rolled another five feet past the cup. "That," he joked later, "was probably the worst putt I've ever hit under pressure."
It opened the door ever so slightly for Norman. Pavin, who made the putt coming back to save par, had to wait nervously in a television tower behind the 18th green. Norman, who had bogeyed the par-3 17th to fall two shots behind, needed the same kind of miracle that he has seen bedevil him at other majors in the past.
Maybe even a bigger one, since the 40-year-old Australian had to hole out from 175 yards away. It had been done earlier in the day, by Scotland's Colin Montgomerie, but Norman pushed his approach left of the green.
"I was trying to make it," said Norman, who would save par and second place with an eight-footer to finish the round at 3-over 73. "I wanted to hook a 7-iron in there, but it hooked more than I wanted."
While Pavin would celebrate the biggest victory of his career, Norman would be left to contemplate yet another disappointing final round in a major. This time, he wasn't undone by the unexpected magic of others, or by his own poor decisions.
Yesterday, and for the last 36 holes, Norman's downfall was his ** putting. Though he regained the No. 1 ranking in the world from Nick Price, it left Norman still searching for that elusive first U.S. major to back up his two British Open titles.
"I didn't make too many birdies," said Norman, who made one in the last two rounds and went through a stretch 32 holes without a birdie. "I played good today. I hit the ball solidly. I hit a lot of good putts that weren't going in. It just wasn't my time."
It wasn't Lehman's time either. Also looking for his first major title, Lehman took the lead with a three-foot birdie on the par-4 third hole, but quickly lost it with a bogey on the very next hole. Lehman was still in contention until a double-bogey at 16 put him three shots behind Pavin.
"Any time you have a chance to win the U.S. Open, it would be nice to go out and play your very best game and today I didn't do that," said Lehman, 36, who had put himself in contention with a 67 Saturday, seven shots fewer than he needed yesterday. "So I feel like I really let it slip through my fingers. The 16th hole is a monster. I saw it chew up Phil [Mickelson] the first two days and it got me today."
The victory by Pavin, a former Ryder Cup hero at both Kiawah Island in 1991 and at The Belfry in 1993, continued U.S. domination in the Open. It marked the 13th time in the last 14 years that an American-born player has won the Open.
It was a fitting tribute to Pavin's career, which has been characterized by a tenacity that has allowed him to overcome his physical limitations. At 5 feet 9 and 150 pounds, Pavin has gained a reputation for being something of a pressure player.
"I just concentrate better and focus better when I am under more pressure," said Pavin, who came into the Open after losing in sudden death to Lee Janzen at last week's Kemper Open. "I don't know what that all means, but I just try to do the best I can every time I go out there and play within the limitations that I have physically. If you're aggressive out here and do things out of your norm, it is going to come up and bite you."
Shinnecock Hills did more than take a few nibbles during the past four days. It knocked the biggest, strongest and best golfers in the world to the ground. Only one was left standing, a small and scrawny guy who no longer has to hear he's the best player never to have won a major.
VTC "I probably hated that more than anyone on this planet," Pavin said.
The winner . . .
;/ Corey Pavin ... ... ... ... .72-69-71-68280
. . . and followers
Greg Norman .... .... .... .... 68-67-74-73282
Tom Lehman .... .... .... ..... 70-72-67-74283
Davis Love III .... .... ...... 72-68-73-71284
Phil Mickelson .... .... ...... 68-70-72-74284
Bill Glasson .... ..... .... .. 69-70-76-69284
Jay Haas .... .... .... .... .. 70-73-72-69284
Neal Lancaster .... .... ... .. 70-72-77-65284
Jeff Maggert .... .... .... ... 69-72-77-66284
Frank Nobilo ..... .... .... .. 72-72-70-71285
Vijay Singh .... .... .... .... 70-71-72-72285
Bob Tway .... .... .... .... .. 69-69-72-75285
Nick Price .... ... .... ... .. 66-73-73-74286
Steve Stricker .... ... .... .. 71-70-71-74286
M. McCumber .... .... .... .... 70-71-77-68286
Duffy Waldorf .... .... ... ... 72-70-75-69286
Brad Bryant .... ..... .... ... 71-75-70-70286
Jeff Sluman .... .... .... .... 72-69-74-71286
Lee Janzen .... ... .... ...... 70-72-72-72286
Mark Roe .... .... ..... ...... 71-69-74-72286
Complete scores: 9C