Brooks is leading link in Kemper threesome

June 03, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

POTOMAC -- By design, John Daly and Phil Mickelson were paired in yesterday's opening round of the $1.3 million Kemper Open. By regulation, Mark Brooks was thrown in to fill out the threesome.

While his name certainly would have been in smaller letters if the Tournament Players Club at Avenel used a marquee to promote its most attractive grouping, Brooks now finds himself where it matters: on top of the leader board.

With Daly and Mickelson getting most of the attention from the galleries, Brooks extracted nearly as many birdies out of the Tournament Players Club course as his two more celebrated playing partners combined. Six, to be exact, in a near-perfect round of 6-under-par 65.

It gave the 11-year veteran a three-shot lead over journeymen Ed Dougherty and Bobby Wadkins, as well as 1990 Player of the Year Wayne Levi. Five players were at 2-under 69. Mickelson and reigning U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen were in a group of 11 others at 1-under 70.

Among the eight players within four shots of the lead, only Levi started his round in the afternoon. By that time, the winds were gusting to about 15 to 20 miles per hour, and the greens were hard and flaky. Only the fairways, which resembled those at your neighborhood publinx, remained consistent.

"Everyone knows what the fairways are like -- not very good," said Levi, 42, whose bogey on the final hole dropped him into a tie with two other fortysomething players who never have won in a total of 35 years on the tour. "You're going to get bad lies; you have to hope you don't get them on critical shots."

The tough conditions produced an unusual number of high scores on a course known for its propensity forsubpar rounds. Among those in the field who've won here, all were over par, including Tom Kite at 4-over 75.

Though the crowds following the game's biggest hitter and one of its rising stars didn't unnerve Brooks, a certain line of questioning did. The normally sedate Brooks bristled when he was asked if he felt like "chopped liver" compared with Daly and Mickelson.

"I'm leading the golf tournament," Brooks said with an icy blue stare. "I might be leading at the end of the day. They were lucky to be paired with me, I guess. I kind of dragged them along today."

Brooks, whose once-rising career has stumbled the past couple of years, had a rarity even on this level of golf. He played the entire round without scoring more than 4 on any hole.

"The hardest thing to do is playing without 5s," said Brooks, who was 2-under at the turn after starting at No. 10, then birdied the first three holes and four of the first six on the front. "I can count on both hands the rounds I've played on tour without a 5."

Brooks didn't even do it two weeks ago, when he shot an opening-round 64 to lead the Memorial. And it's likely he hasn't done it often since winning his third and last PGA event, at the Milwaukee Open in 1991.

While others started fast before fading -- including Daly, who was 2-under after his first four holes but finished at 2-over 73, and Janzen, who was 4-under after five holes before a string of three straight bogeys -- Brooks kept going.

He did it by hitting all but two fairways, and getting his approach shots close. His longest birdie putt was about 18 feet, and he needed to get up and down for par only once, with a 6-footer at the par-4 eighth.

"I hit a lot of good shots early and caught a few [birdie] opportunities," said Brooks, 33. "I felt pretty good headed into the front nine, and things sort of fell into place. It wasn't as pretty as it looked on the scorecard."

It rarely is with Brooks, whose history of shooting low scores hasn't translated into victories. Two years ago, he finished 11 times in the top 10 without winning, but still managed to come in 21st on the money list with $629,724.

Brooks dropped off to 66th last year, and was 59th coming into this week. Even when he was playing well, Brooks did not generate a lot of attention. But he can see why there is such a fuss over Daly's booming drives, even finding some humor in the comparisons.

"It's kind of hard to ignore," he said. "I hit mine out there 245 yards, and John's out there 320. You might occasionally hit your driver so you can pass him when he hits his 4-iron. It's a different game. But that's the good thing about golf. The only thing that truly counts is the score."

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