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Dave Stockton shot four solid rounds of golf as he held off an eleventh-hour charge by Hale Irwin to capture his first USGA title by two strokes at Canterbury Golf Club in Beachwood, Ohio.
Stockton had come close in the 1978 U.S. Open (T-2nd) and the 1992 and 1994 U.S. Senior Opens (T-3rd and T-4th, respectively), but he made his first USGA title look easy. By virtue of a 70-67-67-207 (-12) in the first three rounds, Stockton held a seven-stroke advantage over Bob Charles going into the final round. He finished off the field and withstood Irwin's birdie barrage with a 1-over 73 (+1) in the fourth round, including pars on the first 17 holes.
"That is probably the finest round of golf I have never played in a major championship in a final round with anything at stake," said the 54-year-old Stockton. "I had the advantage. It has been a long time since I played a USGA event where I wasn't the only one trying to manufacture something. And usually when you try to manufacture something to make up ground in a USGA event, you get killed; at least I usually do when I'm aggressive."
Irwin made a rally of nearly historic proportions in the final round, coming from eight strokes back, only to have his hopes of a fourth USGA title dashed with bogeys on the 17th and 18th holes to finish 72-71-69-67-279 (-9). Irwin was well on his way to a course record in the fourth round with seven birdies in the first 16 holes, including a run of four in a row on holes six through nine, but he struggled to finish with the same flair.
"Obviously, someone had to go out early and put some pressure on Dave," said Irwin. "To his credit, he kept throwing the pressure back on me and without making any mistakes, I just ran out of room, I guess. It was a lot of strokes to make up on a good player like Dave Stockton. When I got within one, I though we had ourselves a horserace. I just couldn't get my whip out fast enough."
Stockton compiled an impressive total of 17 birdies in the first three rounds to set the table for his victory, but his 17 pars in the final round proved far more memorable in securing his title.
The first round leader was 60-year-old Bob Charles, who posted a course record-tying 66. Joe Carr, of Spencer, Mass., repeated Charles' feat by posting his own course record-tying 66 in the second round, however, Stockton completed play Friday with a 5-under par 67 to lead the field the rest of the way. Sixty-six players made the cut, which fell at 6-over 150, including three amateurs.
Vinny Giles of Richmond, Va., shot 79-71-75-74-299 to capture low amateur honors and a tie for 54th place. Thirteen golfers finished at even par or better. Other notables included Raymond Floyd, who finished in third place at 8-under par 280; Graham Marsh, who finished in fourth at 6-under par 282; and Charles, who faded to a seventh place finish at 3-under par 285.
Starts - 15
Champion Year - 1996
Rounds - 50
Cuts Made - 10
Top 3 - 2
Top 5 - 3
Top 10 - 6
Top 25 - 7
Avg. - 72.34
Scores In 60s - 14
Rds. Under Par - 20
Earnings - $510,801.60