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Payne Relief: Payne Stewart reverses a narrow loss at the U.S. Open and wins a scintillating showdown at Pinehurst

Daly's sentiments were shared by few. Since 1951, when the USGA hired Robert Trent Jones to trick up Oakland Hills, Open courses have looked like a bag lady in summer, smothered in fur collars and long grass skirts. The setup has fostered monotonous play, with careful tee shots, copybook irons and unimaginative wedges from six-inch rough. Pinehurst No. 2, on the other hand, was more like a Roaring '20s flapper: sleek, sassy and a bit of a tease. The rough was clipped to three inches every day—peach fuzz, by Open standards—and the green boundaries shaved to provide more short-game options. "This is the first Open course I've played," said Mickelson last Friday, "that tests every area of the player's game."

When the test was over, Woods, the world's second-ranked player, had scored better than his rival, Duval. Woods pulled to within a stroke of the lead when he birdied the 16th—a par-4 so difficult that only three players hit it in regulation on Sunday—but he lipped out a short par putt on the 17th and bowed his head, knowing his shot at victory was probably gone. Woods finished third, tied with Vijay Singh at one over.

Stewart then proved that you don't have to be top-ranked to be top-drawer. Mickelson led by one and had an eight-footer for par on the 16th when Stewart rolled in a stunning 25-footer for his own par. Mickelson then missed, making his only bogey in an otherwise steadfast round. Both players hit terrific tee shots at the par-3 17th, but it was Stewart who made his birdie putt, a three-footer, while Mickelson missed from inside 10 feet. That gave Stewart, at one under par, a one-shot lead on the 18th tee.

A playoff seemed likely when Stewart's drive landed in the right rough. He laid up with his second shot and then hit a nine-iron to a spot 15 feet below the hole. He waited as Mickelson's 25-foot birdie try slid an inch outside the cup for a two-putt par before stroking the winning putt smoothly up the hill and into the hole. "I never read a putt all week," said his caddie, Mike Hicks. "He did his own thing, and he did it beautifully."

The win gave Stewart his third major title. (He also won the won the 1989 PGA Championship.) In the locker room at Pinehurst, Tracey sat with the silver trophy, touching it as if it were a child. "I can't believe it's ours again," she said, tears welling up. "When we sent it off to Pebble Beach in 1992, I remember packing it in the steel travel case. I said, I hope it comes back.' "

Payne enjoyed the trophy, too, but he seemed to get a bigger kick from the look of happiness on Tracey's face. "There used to be a void in my life," he said, recalling a time when he would sooner kick a neighbor than love one. "The peace I have now is so wonderful. I don't understand how I lived so long without it."

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