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Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Tuesday, June 13, 2000

Stewart’s loss will be
felt at Pebble Beach

THIS week, scenic Pebble Beach will host the 100th and perhaps most poignant U.S. Open Championship.

It will be remembered, not so much for the 2000 winner, but the 1999 champion who isn't there to defend his title -- Payne Stewart.

Who can forget last June at Pinehurst when Stewart sank a 15-foot putt for par on the 72nd hole to beat Phil Mickelson?

Or Stewart's joy as he thrust his fist in the air, hugged his caddy who had jumped into his arms Yogi Berra-like and screamed above the cheers at the 18th green?

Stewart obviously had thought about being at Pebble Beach again and defending his U.S. Open title.

Among the last words Stewart said as he looked back at the Pinehurst clubhouse following a long evening of celebration obviously indicated as much.

"What in the world is it going to be like next year at Pebble Beach? How much bigger and better can it (the tournament) get?"

After all, the last time the U.S. Open was held at Pebble Beach in 1992, Stewart was the defending champion as well, having won at Hazeltine the year before.

Four months after his triumph at Pinehurst, Stewart tragically died with four others in a ghostly plane crash that saddened the sports world.

Stewart's Last Hurrah came in the Ryder Cup as he made the U.S. team for the first time in six years, thanks to his win at Pinehurst.

That the Americans won for the first time since 1993 wasn't simply coincidence. Stewart's presence on the team had something to do with it.

When the Americans clinched the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history last September, it was Stewart who conceded a putt to Colin Montgomerie in their final match, displaying an act of sportsmanship one hardly sees today.

Mickelson recalled how heart-wrenching he felt when Stewart sank his winning putt. But he said he wouldn't trade the emotional roller coaster he experienced right after.

"The following day, I was overjoyed with the birth of our first child," said Mickelson, who became a father one day after Father's Day.

MICKELSON again will be one of the leading contenders this week at Pebble Beach, along with the ever-dominating Tiger Woods.

They've combined for seven tour victories so far this year. And both have won at Pebble Beach before -- Woods winning the AT&T National Pro-Am this year and Mickelson in 1999.

"It's a course I'm comfortable with," Mickelson said. "Winning the AT&T gives me confidence."

He has the short game that's needed to win at Pebble, as does Woods, the most complete golfer of our time.

No, I haven't forgotten Jack Nicklaus, who might be making his final appearance at Pebble Beach, where he won the third of his four U.S. Open championships in 1972.

Nicklaus talked about his "personal love affair" with Pebble Beach, which he calls, "My favorite course on Earth."

Another contender this week is Hal Sutton, who says his game right now is at it's "all-time best."

Sutton also had Stewart in his thoughts.

"I look back on last year and I think about Payne Stewart having won the U.S. Open," Sutton said in a USGA telephone press conference.

"I did an outing the next day with Payne Stewart after he had won the U.S. Open," Sutton said.

"The excitement he felt that he had accomplished his goal. I could feel the completeness in Payne Stewart's life from that."

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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