CHASKA, Minn. -- A year ago at Medinah, Scott Simpson played the last three holes in the third round of the United States Open in 5 over par. Included in his misadventure was a triple bogey on the par-3 17th.
Simpson lost the lead, but not his sense of humor.
"I feel like Homer Simpson," the former Open champion said at the time. "Beat down."
There were many players who felt the same way yesterday at Hazeltine National Golf Club during the third round of the 91st Open. The winds came up, as did the scores. And for Simpson, it was nearly a case of deja blew.
Bogeys at 16 and 17 cost Simpson sole possession of the lead, but a 5-foot save for par on the final hole helped the 1987 Open champion stay tied with Payne Stewart at 6-under-par 210 going into today's final round.
Simpson, who shot even-par 72, and Stewart, who parred the last three holes to finish with 73, have a four-shot lead over Nick Price (71) and Scott Hoch (74). Nolan Henke (77), Fred Couples (75) and Brian Kamm (73) are five shots behind.
"If the greens dry out and the wind picks up, I think tomorrow is going to be difficult for anybody," Price said. "I don't care if somebody's five shots ahead."
In the past decade, the most shots anyone made up on the leader in the final round was last year by Hale Irwin, who came from four strokes back to force a playoff round the next day, then beat Mike Donald in sudden death on the 19th playoff hole.
"I'm going to go out and hopefully post a good score, then let them look at it," said Irwin, whose 2-under-par 70 was yesterday's best score and only one of two in the red, putting him at even-par 216 with former Masters and British Open champion Sandy Lyle (74). "I'll take my chances."
So will Simpson. Considering what happened last year, and what might have happened had he missed that putt on 18, Simpson considered himself fortunate. His even-par round was quite an achievement under the circumstances, considering he was only one of six at par or better for the day.
"Obviously, I'm just pleased to be up there tied for the lead," said Simpson, who won the Open at Olympic by coming from a shot behind Tom Watson on the final day. "The conditions today were difficult, but the course was playable if you hit it well. But if you don't hit the ball solid, it's going to accentuate your errors."
Said Stewart: "I think the USGA got what they wanted today. The golf course was showing its teeth. By the scores that were shot, this was the championship golf course that was meant to be."
Many of those who began the day in contention saw their chances fade, their shots chewed up by the swirling, 15-to-20-mph winds, the fast-drying greens and the nerve-tingling pressure of the Open.
Among those who were wiped out included Corey Pavin, the leading money-winner on the PGA Tour, who started at 6 under and shot 7-over 79; Craig Stadler, who went from 4 under to 1 over with a 77; and Masters champion Ian Woosnam, 3 under going in, 4 over going home.
"A disaster," said Woosnam.
It nearly proved that way again for Simpson, who stumbled a couple of times, but never fell. After birdies at the third and 10th holes put him at 8-under par, Simpson missed a short par putt at No. 12. Stewart momentarily recaptured a share of the lead with a birdie at No. 11, but Simpson came right back by making a 35-footer for birdie at No. 13.
The lead grew to two shots when Stewart three-putted from 45 feet on No. 13, running a 3 1/2 -footer for par over the left edge of the cup. It stayed there when Stewart's 15-foot birdie at No. 14 hTC turned away from the hole at the last moment. But Simpson threw the lead away with bogeys on two of the last three holes.
"I'm glad I didn't bogey the last three holes," said Simpson, who is looking for his first victory in two years.
Stewart, who survived an early double-bogey at No. 5 to fall to 6 under, faced imminent danger when he drive on No. 16 ran through the fairway and into the downward slope of heavy rough. He put his second shot short, and his third about 35 feet from the green. He made a difficult downhill putt that broke twice before dropping in the hole.
"I was ready to make bogey, take my medicine and move on," said Stewart, who made a 5-footer himself to save par and a share of the lead. "It went in. It was exciting."
Aside from Simpson and Stewart, the 1989 PGA champion, the one common thread running through many on the leaderboard is past collapses in major tournaments or virtually no experience in this sort of situation.
Hoch, 35, has won four times in 11 years on tour, but is best known for losing the 1989 Masters to Nick Faldo by missing a 30-inch putt on the first sudden-death playoff hole. Price has won once since coming on tour in 1983, but has blown two British Opens on the final day.
"If you get in that position enough, eventually it will be your turn," Price said.
Simpson would like it to be his turn again. But since winning th Open, Simpson has had disastrous final rounds, going a cumulative 10-over par the past three years. When reminded of that last night, he smiled.
"Thank you very much," he said. "Maybe once every five years I can play well on the final day of the Open. I'm not too worried."
And Stewart has his own Open ghosts to exorcise. Five years ago at Shinnecock Hills, Stewart lost the lead with six holes to play. "It's been my dream to win the Open," he said last night. "But I'm just going to take it one shot at time on a course like this. If you don't, it'll slap you in the face."