Great Scot, Jack, but he didn't win

June 22, 1992|By Scott Ostler | Scott Ostler,San Francisco Chronicle

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- As the U.S. Spit-Into-the-Wind Open drew to a breezy conclusion, more questions were raised than were answered, such as:

Is there a way to thank Gil Morgan for making yesterday's exciting play possible, without really twisting that knife in the good doctor's heart?

Can Tom Kite avoid the agony of victory, the ancient curse that seems to go along with the U.S. Open's silver cup?

And was Jack Nicklaus smoking poa annua grass out behind the CBS booth yesterday afternoon, just before placing the kiss of death on young Scottish master Colin Montgomerie?

How else to explain Nicklaus' incredible gaffe, congratulating Montgomerie on winning the Open in even-par golf while Tom Kite was still out on the course, three strokes under par and charging?

Let's travel back 10 years, shall we, to the last Open here at Pebble. Nicklaus finishes his Sunday round with the lead, and just off the 18th green he accepts congratulations from TV man Jack Whitaker on winning the U.S. Open.

The "Aw, shucks" is barely out of Nicklaus' mouth when Tom Watson chips in from the rough on 17 to steal the tournament.

Does Nicklaus remember this moment, remember how stupid it is to sack up the bats before the final out, to count the chickens, to uncork the champagne in the seventh inning?

Naaa. Jack does his Carnac the Magnificent routine. On TV, he flatly states that if Montgomerie shoots par for the tourney, he is the winner. Then, after Montgomerie shoots par and stops by the TV booth, Nicklaus tells Montgomerie, a "Chariots of Fire" kind of solid Scottish chap, "Congratulations on your first U.S. Open victory."

The word "victory" is partially drowned out by the cheering for Tom Kite's birdie chip on No. 7.

Say it ain't so, Jack.

This is to take nothing away from Kite, who probably would have won even if Nicklaus hadn't hung the big whammy on young Colin.

Kite shot 3-under-par 285 for the four days, which, adjusting for yesterday's wind-thrill factor, was the equivalent of about 20-under-par.

Montgomerie played in a soft morning breeze, but Kite teed off just after the small craft warning went up on Carmel Bay and several seals were blown off the rocks.

How windy was it? Those whitecaps out on the bay were actually white caps that blew off the heads of Open spectators. The guys who teed off after 11 a.m. might as well have been playing ping-pong balls. They had to actually allow for windage in reading putts.

Kite went off at 12:46 and his best hope was that, at just over 150 pounds, he wouldn't become a human hot-dog wrapper.

When Montgomerie finished and waited for Kite to stagger home the final nine, he told the press corps, "If Tom Kite can play these holes 2-over-par and beat me, he deserves it."

You bet your niblick, Colin.

Kite's finish, even par over those last typhoon-lashed nine holes, goes down as one of the great finishing kicks of our golfing time.

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