US Open countdown: Popular Stewart claims first Open title in playoff

91st U.S. Open | June 13-17, 1991

Hazeltine National Golf Club, Chaska, Minnesota.


x-Payne Stewart, United States 67 - 70 - 73 - 72 282
Scott Simpson, United States 70 - 68 - 72 - 72 282
Fred Couples, United States 70 - 70 - 75 - 70 285
Larry Nelson, United States 73 - 72 - 72 - 68 285
Fuzzy Zoeller, United States 72 - 73 - 74 - 67 286
x-won playoff

Very few golfers in history have possessed a more graceful swing, had more style in their on-course apparel and were more popular with galleries than the late Payne Stewart.

And as the world found out, he saved his best golf for majors.

Three of his 11 career PGA Tour victories came at the biggest tournaments, including this national open — which had a tragic beginning when six patrons were struck by lightning during a thunderstorm near the 11th tee, with one man dying.

Stewart held at least a share of the lead after each round, but he trailed Simpson down the closing stretch of holes in the final round and again in the 18-hole playoff.

Simpson, the 1987 U.S. Open winner, took a one-shot lead to the final hole of the fourth round. But his drive landed in deep rough, leading to a bogey and forcing a head-to-head playoff round against Stewart, a Missouri native.

With three holes remaining in the playoff, Simpson held a two-stroke advantage. But the tournament’s most decisive swing came on the 16th hole, a short but treacherous par 4.

Simpson’s 7-iron approach shot hit a greenside mound and kicked to the back of the green. He three-putted from 40 feet for a bogey. Stewart, meanwhile, rolled in a 20-foot putt for birdie — his first birdie in 31 holes — to tie the match.

Simpson bogeyed the final two holes to essentially hand Stewart the first of his two U.S. Open titles.

Stewart shot 75 and Simpson a 77. It was the highest winning score in a playoff in 64 years (Tommy Armour defeated Harry Cooper, 76-79, at Oakmont Country Club in 1927).

“I’m fortunate to be the champion,” Stewart told reporters afterward.

Also, this was the best showing at a U.S. Open for Seattle’s Fred Couples, who tied for third. Ten months later, Couples won his lone major title at the 1992 Masters Tournament.