US Open countdown: Ernie Els survives Oakmont, three-man playoff to win 1994 event

94th U.S. Open | June 16-20, 1994

Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pa.


x-Ernie Els, South Africa 69 - 71 - 66 - 73 279
Colin Montgomerie, Scotland 71 - 65 - 73 - 70 279
Loren Roberts, United States 76 - 69 - 64 - 70 279
Curtis Strange, United States 70 - 70 - 70 - 70 280
John Cook, United States 73 - 70 - 73 - 71 282
x-won in playoff

Even through all the carnage crusty Oakmont left behind during a brutally hot week, it was easy to notice one thing.

Ernie Els.

The fluid-swinging, straight-hitting young South African was a sight to behold, winning the first of what many at the time thought would be many major titles (that total sits at four) in the first three-man U.S. Open playoff in 31 years.

Two-time U.S. Open winner Curtis Strange declared to reporters after finishing his tournament playing with Els that he had witnessed the next “god” of golf.

Yet, the real master in the final round was Oakmont itself. The eight top players would end up 19 over par collectively for the day. Els, Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie somewhat survived it all, but not with distinction. They combined to hit just 30 of 54 greens in regulation and total 12 bogeys.

Els, meanwhile, received what many thought was as favorable a USGA ruling as had ever been seen at a national open.

Els’ tee shot off the downhill first hole landed in some of the deepest rough on the course. A big score seemed inevitable — except that Dr. Trey Holland, the chairman of the USGA rules committee, deemed a television camera on wheels was in the golfer’s line of play and was a “temporary immovable obstruction.”

Els was given a free drop on a patch of trampled-down grass, ended up making bogey, and continued his march toward a U.S. Open crown.

Later, Holland admitted his ruling was incorrect.

In the playoff, all three golfers got off to horrid starts — particularly on the second hole (Els made triple bogey, Montgomerie a double bogey and Roberts a bogey). Eventually, Montgomerie bowed out with a disappointing 78 while the other two went extra holes after tying with 74s.

On the 20th hole — at No. 11 — Roberts got into trouble in a greenside bunker and blasted out 35 feet from the hole for par. He nearly made it. Els did sink his simple 31/2-footer to become the second South African to win a U.S. Open — and first since Gary Player in 1965.

The USGA did get something right that week by awarding Arnold Palmer a special exemption to play his final U.S. Open in his hometown. At 64, he missed the cut.

Also, this was the end of television coverage by ABC Sports, which had broadcast the national open since 1966. NBC Sports would take over at that point — until last year.