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Stewart Moves Toward U.S. Open Title

June 20, 1999

PINEHURST, N.C. (AP) _ Instead of backing up to the field, Payne Stewart came out charging Sunday in the final round of the U.S. Open.

Stewart, who won the Open in 1991 and was a runner-up in ’93 and ’98, started the day with a one-shot lead in the light mist at Pinehurst No. 2. He quickly grabbed a two-shot margin over top contenders Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and David Duval with a 15-foot birdie putt on the first hole.

After giving a shot back on the second hole when he missed the green right and his first pitch shot rolled back to his feet, Stewart stuck his approach shot on No. 3 within three feet for another birdie.

Stewart, 42, lost a four-stroke lead to champion Lee Janzen in the final round of the Open last year at The Olympic Club. But he looked solid this time around as he made the turn at 2 under for the tourney.

The man known for his knickers found himself with at least a two-shot margin over everyone but Mickelson, his playing partner, who was within one shot after the soggy front nine.

Woods, looking for his first victory in a major since the ’97 Masters, got to even par for the tournament after making a 4-foot birdie on his first hole, but he flew his approach shot over the green at Nos. 3 and 5 and made bogeys.

Duval, the No. 1 player in the world, began with a par save from the woods on No. 1 and two birdies on his first three holes, but once again found trouble at his nemesis hole all week _ the par-3 No. 6. He missed a 5-footer there for par that dropped him three shots behind Stewart.

Duval missed another 5-footer for par two holes later and his double-bogey on the par-3 ninth hole dropped one of this week’s favorites from contention after a front-nine 2-over-par 37.

Meanwhile, Mickelson couldn’t put together anything early in his round, stringing together six straight pars, including a pair of par-saving 8-footers on the first two holes. He then sank a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 7 to pull closer to Stewart.

Tim Herron, the lesser known of the leaders, lost his chance for a major title with a double-bogey on No. 6 and bogeys on the next two holes. He started the day two shots behind Stewart, who made a fabulous sand save for par on the ninth.

Stewart’s 1-under 34 on the front tied Mickelson and Vijay Singh for the best opening nine holes among Sunday’s final three groups.

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