Lee Janzen, 33, made four birdies and no bogeys over the final 15 holes at The Olympic Club in San Francisco to come from seven strokes behind Payne Stewart and claim his second U.S. Open Championship in six years. Ironically, he also overtook Stewart to win in 1993 at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J.
"I seem to bring out the best in Lee," said a disappointed Stewart, who had led for more than 60 holes of the championship.
Janzen began the day five strokes behind Stewart, who led for the first three days and was the only player under par heading into the final round at 3-under-par 207. Playing two groups ahead of Stewart, Janzen started at 2-over 211 but dropped two more strokes behind when he bogeyed the difficult second and third holes.
Janzen gained momentum with his good fortune on the par-4 fifth. His tee shot found the trees on the left and looked to be lost, but as he was heading back to the teeing ground to replay a second tee ball, his first ball dislodged and fell from a tree into the deep rough. Janzen chipped back to the fairway, hit his approach over the green, and then chipped in for par.
"I can't tell you the feeling I had walking to the sixth tee," said Janzen. "I was looking at six and I made four."
Janzen still didn't appear to be a threat to Stewart. More apparent challengers were Tom Lehman at 1-over, who was playing in the final group for the fourth consecutive year, and Nick Price and Bob Tway in the second to last group, each starting the final round at 2-over. None, however, could make birdies like Janzen. His final round of 2-under 68 was one of only three sub-par rounds on Sunday.
Janzen earned a share of the lead with birdies on the par-3 12th and par-4 13th before carefully navigating pars on the incoming holes, including the most difficult 486-yard 17th, where he reached the green with a 3-iron and 2-putted from 40 feet straight downhill.
Stewart, who won the Open in 1991 and also led after 36 holes in 1996, made bogey on the 16th after finding a greenside bunker with his approach. His last chance to tie Janzen came at the finishing hole, where he had a 25-footer for birdie. His downhill putt broke left and slid inches below the hole, giving Janzen the biggest come-from-behind win after 54 holes since Hale Irwin came from five back in 1973.
"I feel complete satisfaction," said Janzen, who could barely stand to watch Stewart's birdie putt on the final hole from a television in the scoring area. "I went out and played my absolute best in the championship I love most."
There were only 26 rounds under par for the championship. Janzen had two of them, the lowest of which was his 66 for the second round, which brought him into contention after an opening 73. The lowest round was Paul Azinger's 65 on Sunday, capped by a birdie at the 18th.
Nineteen-year-old amateur Matt Kuchar had one of those under-par rounds as well. His 70-69 start put him at 1-under and in a tie for fourth place, just two strokes behind Stewart, who entered the weekend at 3-under. The reigning U.S. Amateur champion finished tied for 14th, the lowest finish for an amateur since Jim Simons was tied for fifth in 1971. He was the only one of six amateurs in the field to make the cut and earned exempt status for the 1999 championship.
The minimum of 60 players made the cut, which came at 7-over 147. Rocky Walcher axed three former champions from the field when he made par late Friday night, playing in the third to last group.
The USGA accepted a record 7,117 entries for the championship, none of which a stir like the entry of Casey Martin, who was awarded the right to use automotive transportation in the championship because a physical disability (leg). Martin, a member of the PGA Nike Tour in 1998, finished tied for 23rd.
Starts - 16
Best Finish - Winner 1993, & '98
Rds - 52
Cuts Made - 10
Top 3 - 2
Top 5 - 2
Top 10 - 3
Top 25 - 5
Avg. - 72.96
Scores In 60s - 9
Rds Under Par - 9
Earnings - $1,049,530.83