Corey Pavin will never hear the question again. Greg Norman may never escape it.
Pavin, with a masterful closing round of 68 over the punishing Shinnecock Hills layout, won the U.S. Open on Sunday and will no longer have to explain why he is the best player around never to win a major championship.
Norman, with an unsteady 73 that was shakiest on the crucial closing holes, finished second in a major championship for the sixth time. His 282 was two strokes behind Pavin’s even-par 280.
“I had faith that it would happen,” Pavin said about finally winning a major. “I got tired of hearing the question. It wears on you.”
Congratulating Pavin on the 18th green, Norman patted him on the back and said, “Good job. Welcome to the club,” a reference to having won a major championship. Norman has won two British Opens but has never won a major in the United States.
“People simply will say I let things slip away,” said Norman, who started the day tied for the lead with Tom Lehman at 1-under. “That’s not necessarily the case. It’s just as hard to put yourself in there with a chance to win as it is to win.”
Pavin, playing the last 10 holes at 3-under and the last 15 without a bogey, finished three strokes ahead of Lehman, who lost his last chance when he double bogeyed No. 16.
“I’ve been trying for 12 years to win one,” Pavin said. “I’m very excited to have the monkey off my back.”
Then, glancing at the U.S. Open championship trophy next to him, Pavin smiled and said, “This trophy is not going to get too far away from me for the next couple of weeks.”
Next to last in the Open field in driving distance, Pavin won with solid, accurate play over the rolling fairways, avoiding the penal izing rough that claimed so many others.
“That’s what you really need here at Shinnecock, to keep control of the golf ball,” Pavin said.
He also made huge putts, perhaps none bigger than a 5-foot par save on No. 17.
He closed it out with a bold, 228-yard 4-wood to the guarded 18th green. Pavin broke into a jog as the ball bounded onto the green and rolled toward to flag.
“I was very anxious to see that one,” Pavin said. “I knew when I hit it was going to be pretty close.”
As it came to rest 6 feet from the pin, he dropped to a crouch, closed his eyes and let loose a big exhale. He missed the birdie putt that would have wrapped it up, then waited for Norman to finish.
“It probably was the most pressure I’ve ever felt,” Pavin said of his shot to 18. “I was gathering my thoughts, saying a little prayer.”
Norman sprayed the ball for the second straight day but wasn’t able to pull off the miracle par saves he made Saturday. He lost his last chance on No. 17 when he hit the sand trap on the par-3, blasted short and missed the putt for par to fall two behind.
It was Pavin’s first victory in a major championship after finishing second once in the PGA, third in the Masters and fourth in the British Open.
With 12 victories on the PGA Tour, the 35-year-old Californian had the most wins of anyone currently on tour without a major championship. He will wear that label no longer.
He is the first player win the Open with an even-par score since Hale Irwin won at Inverness with a 284 in 1979.
Pavin, who finished second at Kemper last week, became the third consecutive Open winner to finish second the week before. Last year’s Open winner, Ernie Els, was second at Westchester, as was Lee Janzen in 1993.
Although the wind was down on Sunday, the pressure was up. Pavin handled the hard, fast course brilliantly.
“When I got here on Monday it kept raining and raining I was getting frustrated,” he said. “I wanted the course to firm up.”
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