CHASKA, MINN — CHASKA, Minn. -- Scott Simpson and Payne Stewart probably went to sleep last night with the same thought rolling around their heads: that they could have won the U.S. Open yesterday.
But neither did, so they will be back today at Hazeltine National Golf Club, this time for an 18-hole, sudden-death playoff. "I'm thankful to be playing tomorrow," Stewart said yesterday. "But I'm sure Scott isn't."
How could he be? With three holes to play, Simpson was at 8-under par, leading Stewart by a couple of strokes. Yet Hazeltine's answer to Amen Corner proved a distraction to Simpson for the second straight day.
"I'm actually a little disappointed that I didn't win," said Simpson, who came into the round tied with Stewart at 6-under par and remained with him there, three shots ahead of Larry Nelson and Fred Couples. "But at the
same time, Payne had some chances to win also."
How about the 4-footer for birdie at 15 and 8-footer at 17, putts that Stewart said were sent astray by spike marks on the green? Or the 12-footer on No. 16 that Stewart plainly mishit? Simpson kept thinking that Stewart was going to make one, and was thankful he didn't.
"My reaction was phew," said Simpson, who was playing as if he were going to fold. "I was relieved they didn't go in." Said Stewart, "I kept trying to tell myself that I still have a chance, even after I missed the putt at 15. I thought, 'If I keep doing it, something good will happen. Something did. Scott bogeyed.' "
Simpson's bogey at 16, after he hit his drive across the fairway and into a marsh, brought Stewart to within a shot. His bogey at 18, when he pulled his drive into the rough and barely got out, helped draw Stewart even.
The playoff, scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. EDT, marks the second straight year the Open has gone an extra day. It is the third playoff in four years and the 27th in the 91-year history of the event.
"I'd like to play one [hole sudden death]," Stewart said. "But I'm ready to do whatever the USGA wants."
This matchup between a pair of homegrown thirtysomething golfers looking to back up their first major championships is exactly what the USGA wants. It means that the Open will be won by an American for the 21st straight year.
But this could ruin future outings between the Simpsons an Stewarts. Though the golfers are somewhat friendly, their wives and kids are closer than they are.
"We know each other pretty well," said Simpson, 35. "We go to Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties now and then."
Asked about the kind of small talk they made yesterday on the course, Simpson said, "He asked me how I liked 'Robin Hood' last night. Really intellectual conversations that golfers have."
In reality, today will mark the second straight day when Simpson and Stewart will be playing each other. For most of yesterday's round, whoever led was at least four shots up on the rest of the field, the same position Simpson and Stewart started yesterday.
"It was pretty close to match play on the back nine because it was pretty obvious that Payne or I was going to win," Simpson said. "But I could have lost."
It finally came down to a couple of putts for each player on the 18th green. Neither was close on their birdie attempts -- Simpson's from 30 feet below the cup, Stewart's from 25 feet on the back fringe -- but both firmly hit their putts for par in the center of the hole.
"I can't beat myself with a bogey on the last hole," said Stewart, 34, explaining why he went for the pin on his approach. "If I gave myself achance to make birdie, I would make it since I had been making so many birdie putts today."
He, of course, was kidding. As happy as Stewart was to be in a playoff, as relieved as he was that Simpson opened the door, it irked him that none of those birdie putts had dropped. But he knows that the door should have been slammed shut yesterday long before they reached the 18th hole.
Stewart, who has gone recently to sports psychologist Richard Coop to work on his faltering confidence, said that what happened in the final round should have no effect on what happens in the playoff.
"As far as that's concerned, it's a clean slate," he said.
But Simpson, whose work with swing doctor David Ledbetter helped turn around his game in the past few years, might need Coop more, especially when considering the last three holes. Twice in two days, he threw away two-shot leads. He played those holes at 10 over for the Open.
Asked what he would like to do differently, Simpson said, "Get my ball in the fairway on 16."
Simpson displayed a lighter side when someone wanted to know what he would do to prepare for today's playoff. "I'll go lift weights for a few hours, do some Zen Buddhist meditation and a little levitation," he said. "No, I'll go home and try to not think about golf and get refreshed for tomorrow."