June 16, 2009
In and of itself, the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 was an outstanding tournament. But what happened afterward etched it into golf legend.
Throughout the final round, Payne Stewart was battling messy conditions, his own recent history, and a tenacious young golfer named Phil Mickelson. The two men wound their way through the course, Stewart not daring to hope, Mickelson -- then still looking for his first major -- ready to walk off the course at a moment's notice if his wife went into labor. While Stewart had two majors under his belt, including an Open win in 1991, he'd also finished second in the Open three times, most recently the year before to Lee Janzen.
It was a brutal weekend of golf; Stewart's finishing 279 was the only card below par. John Daly, furious at one putt on the par-4 8th that rolled back to him, smacked it before it stopped rolling, incurring a two-stroke penalty and finishing the hole with an 11. "I don't consider the U.S. Open a major anymore," Daly said afterward.
And while challengers like Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh lurked, both finished two strokes back. Stewart was in charge early -- if being one stroke ahead constitutes "in charge" -- but Mickelson appeared in control late, until a bogey on 16 left him tied with Stewart. After birdieing 17, Stewart's 20-foot-long par putt on 18 sealed the deal. The USGA later said that Stewart was the first player in Open history to win on the final hole with a significant putt.
Immediately afterward, Stewart embraced Mickelson, put both hands on his head, and said "Good luck with the baby. There's nothing like being a father." Amy Mickelson would give birth the next day.
Four months later, Stewart was gone.
He died in a stunning plane accident, one that to this day defies belief. But his final Open remains one of the signature moments in golf history, even though his passing cast a huge shadow over the joy of the day.
Stewart wins 2nd title of decade [CNN/SI]