1994 US Open: Ernie Els Arrives on the Scene

Ernie Els celebrates making a putt during the 1994 US Open
Ernie Els sinks a putt during the 1994 US Open. Gary Newkirk/Getty Images

A controversial ruling played a role in the 1994 U.S. Open, a tournament that ended in an 18-hole playoff that stretched to 20 holes. And this tournament, at Oakmont in his home state of Pennsylvania, marked Arnold Palmer's final appearance in this championship.

Quick Bits

  • Winner: Ernie Els, 279 (full scores below)
  • Dates: June 16–20, 1994
  • Golf course: Oakmont Country Club
  • U.S. Open number: This was the 94th time the championship was played.

The Ruling that Helped Ernie Els at 1994 US Open

Ernie Els held a two-stroke lead as the final round began, on the strength of a third-round 66. But he badly mishit his first tee shot of the final round, deep into trouble off the first fairway of Oakmont Country Club.

A large number loomed as a possiblity. But a USGA rules official ruled that a broadcast truck and its extendable arm were in Els' line of play, and that the truck was a temporary immovable obstruction. In fact, the truck was quite movable — it drove away not long after the incident at hand. But because of the ruling, Els was allowed a free drop in an area where escape was far more likely. The rules official later admitted he had been wrong, and Els should have been required to play the ball from the original, horrendous situation.

Still, it's important to note that the ruling did not win the tournament for Els. Els still bogeyed the hole, and it was the overnight leader's very first hole of the day. It's also good to note that Els did nothing wrong in the incident; he asked for a ruling and was give one (which turned out to be incorrect) by a rules official.

How Els Reached That Point

The Top 5 golfers after the first round included two legends, two more golfers who became Hall of Famers ... and Frank Nobilo. Legend Tom Watson held the first-round lead with a 68, and legend Jack Nicklaus shared second with future Hall of Famers Els and Hale Irwin, plus Nobilo, at 69.

The two men who wound up in the playoff against Els, Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie, shot 76 and 71, respectively, in Round 1.

Montgomerie moved into first place with a 65 in Round 2; Els shot 71 and traiiled by four strokes.

It was Round 3 where Roberts made his move with a 64 that got him into a tie for third, with Montgomerie. Els took the lead with a 66. Nicklaus, age 54, fell out of the running after a 77, but Watson was still hanging in, three strokes off the lead.

Watson wound up tying for fifth place after the final round, in which Els shot 73, Roberts 70 and Mongomerie 70. Those three tied at 5-under 279, forcing an 18-hole playoff.

The 18-Hole Playoff at the 1994 US Open

Els started the playoff very shaky, with a bogey and then a triple-bogey. But while Montgomerie faded — he was five behind by the 12th hole — Els and Roberts battled the whole round. A double-bogey by Roberts on No. 5 dropped him into a tie with Els. Roberts took the lead with a birdie at the next, but Els' own birdie on No. 7 tied them again.

When Els bogeyed the 12th, Roberts went up by one. Roberts gave that lead back on the 16th, then both birdied No. 17. A pair of pars on the 18th hole meant that Els and Roberts finished the round still tied, with 74s.

So on to sudden death those two went (Montgomerie dropped out with a 78). Els and Roberts continued on for two more holes, until Roberts bogeyed the 20th hole of the day and Els parred it for the victory.

It was Els' first major championship victory — and also his first PGA Tour win.

Final Scores at the 1994 US Open

Results from the 1994 U.S. Open golf tournament played at the par-71 Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa. (x-won playoff; a-amateur):

x-Ernie Els 69-71-66-73--279 $320,000
Colin Montgomerie 71-65-73-70--279 $141,827
Loren Roberts 76-69-64-70--279 $141,827
Curtis Strange 70-70-70-70--280 $75,728
John Cook 73-65-73-71--282 $61,318
Clark Dennis 71-71-70-71--283 $49,485
Greg Norman 71-71-69-72--283 $49,485
Tom Watson 68-73-68-74--283 $49,485
Jeff Maggert 71-68-75-70--284 $37,179
Frank Nobilo 69-71-68-76--284 $37,179
Jeff Sluman 72-69-72-71--284 $37,179
Duffy Waldorf 74-68-73-69--284 $37,179
David Edwards 73-65-75-72--285 $29,767
Scott Hoch 72-72-70-71--285 $29,767
Jim McGovern 73-69-74-69--285 $29,767
Fred Couples 72-71-69-74--286 $25,899
Steve Lowery 71-71-68-76--286 $25,899
Seve Ballesteros 72-72-70-73--287 $22,477
Hale Irwin 69-69-71-78--287 $22,477
Scott Verplank 70-72-75-70--287 $22,477
Steve Pate 74-66-71-77--288 $19,464
Sam Torrance 72-71-76-69--288 $19,464
Bernhard Langer 72-72-73-72--289 $17,223
Kirk Triplett 70-71-71-77--289 $17,223
Chip Beck 73-73-70-74--290 $14,705
Craig Parry 78-68-71-73--290 $14,705
Mike Springer 74-72-73-71--290 $14,705
Lennie Clements 73-71-73-75--292 $11,514
Jim Furyk 74-69-74-75--292 $11,514
Davis Love III 74-72-74-72--292 $11,514
Jack Nicklaus 69-70-77-76--292 $11,514
Jumbo Ozaki 70-73-69-80--292 $11,514
Fulton Allem 73-70-74-76--293 $9,578
Mark Carnevale 75-72-76-70--293 $9,578
Ben Crenshaw 71-74-70-78--293 $9,578
Brad Faxon 73-69-71-80--293 $9,578
Tom Kite 73-71-72-77--293 $9,578
Tom Lehman 77-68-73-75--293 $9,578
Peter Baker 73-73-73-75--294 $8,005
Bradley Hughes 71-72-77-74--294 $8,005
Gordon J. Brand 73-71-73-77--294 $8,005
Brandt Jobe 72-74-68-80--294 $8,005
Fran Quinn 75-72-73-75--295 $7,222
Fred Funk 74-71-74-77--296 $6,595
Paul Goydos 74-72-79-71--296 $6,595
Don Walsworth 71-75-73-77--296 $6,595
David Berganio Jr. 73-72-76-76--297 $5,105
Olin Browne 74-73-77-73--297 $5,105
Tim Dunlavey 76-70-78-73--297 $5,105
Mike Emery Jr. 74-73-75-75--297 $5,105
Jim Gallagher Jr. 74-68-77-78--297 $5,105
Barry Lane 77-70-76-74--297 $5,105
Wayne Levi 76-70-73-78--297 $5,105
Phil Mickelson 75-70-73-79--297 $5,105
Tommy Armour III 73-73-79-73--298 $4,324
Hugh Royer III 72-71-77-78--298 $4,324
Scott Simpson 74-73-73-78--298 $4,324
Steven Richardson 74-73-76-76--299 $4,105
Fuzzy Zoeller 76-70-76-77--299 $4,105
Doug Martin 76-70-74-81--301 $3,967
Dave Rummells 71-74-82-74--301 $3,967
Emlyn Aubrey 72-69-81-80--302 $3,800
Ed Humenik 74-72-81-75--302 $3,800
Mike Smith 74-73-78-77--302 $3,800

Arnold Palmer's Final US Open and Other Notes

  • The 1994 U.S. Open was the last played by Arnold Palmer. Palmer hadn't played a U.S. Open since 1983 — the most recent previous time the U.S. Open visited Oakmont — but was granted a special exemption by the USGA because Oakmont was again the host course. Palmer grew up in Latrobe, Pa., and Oakmont was always a special place to Palmer. His very first U.S. Open in 1953 was also at Oakmont. Palmer shot 77-81 here and missed the cut.
  • It was also Johnny Miller's final time playing the U.S. Open, and his last time playing in any of the four major championships. Miller was the 1973 champion, also at Oakmont. He missed the cut with scores of 81-76.
  • Two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange finished one stroke out of the playoff after posting four straight rounds of even-par 70.