Back nine proves thorn in side of many U.S. Open notebook

June 16, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. -- Some of the players at the U.S. Open wouldn't mind taking the back of their hand to the back nine at Oakland Hills Country Club.

Par on both nines is 35. The average score on the first nine in yesterday's third round was 35.755 strokes. On the back, it was 37.161, and second-round leader Payne Stewart and Ernie Els contributed to that disparity.

Stewart went out in 35, and came back in 41. It was 33-39 for Els, who handed the lead to Tom Lehman on No. 16 when he double-bogeyed. Not to be outdone, Stewart came by and triple-bogeyed the 403-yard par-4, where the approach goes over a pond.

"Every amateur can be proud of that hole," Stewart said. "I did it all today. I hit a fat wedge. I shanked one out of the rough. You know, it's golf. It's a testament to how difficult this course is. There's been a good round every day, but there's not a bunch of good rounds."

A record 108 players made the cut, and only 11 broke par 70 yesterday.

Mark O'Meara, who had missed the cut in the last six Opens, had a 68, his best in the tournament since 1988, when he was third.

John Morse, who made the cut for the first time in four tries, also had a 68 to join Frank Nobilo and Davis Love III at even par.

"The feelings of playing in the Open outweigh the feelings of playing in my home state," said Morse, who played for the University of Michigan in the 1970s.

Steve Jones, the only player under par for the tournament besides Lehman and the only one of the leading 18 players after 36 holes to break par yesterday, got there with a birdie on No. 18. It was one of only four birdies yesterday at the 465-yard uphill par-4, which has been the hardest hole throughout, and Jones said it felt like an eagle.

"It's an easy hole to bogey," said Jones, a four-time winner in the 1980s who couldn't swing a club for 17 months after a Nov. 1991 dirt bike accident in which he injured his left hand.

"Two years after that, my left ring finger was feeling pretty good," Jones said, "before I went out in my backyard to rip up my [synthetic] putting green. While I was trying to save $300 doing it myself, I strained my index finger. Next morning I couldn't move it. I told myself I'm not taking another two years to heal, so I went from a regular Vardon grip to a reverse overlap.

"Lo and behold, here I am."

Jim Furyk of Manheim, Pa., was 3-under for the day before he bogeyed three of the last five holes. He settled for a 70, and is 1-over.

No dough for Tiger . . . yet

Tiger Woods, who is backing off of his previous stance that he has no interest in turning pro this year, has some work to do if he's going to be the low amateur.

Woods opened with a 76, made the cut thanks to a 69 in the second round, but fell back again yesterday with a 77. He's 12-over for the tournament, four strokes back of Randy Leen. Leen, of Dayton, Ohio, was the last player to make the field, getting a spot when Fred Couples withdrew with a bad back.

Woods will attempt to become the first man ever to win three straight U.S. Amateur titles in August, at Pumpkin Ridge in Cornelius, Ore. He's entered in the Milwaukee Open and the Quad City Classic in September, and a win would give him a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, which could induce him to pass on his last two years at Stanford and turn pro.

Miscellaneous

Jack Nicklaus, appearing in his 40th straight U.S. Open and the 147th major of his career, was enthused by a 69, a score he has bettered only once in the Open in the 1990s. He's 5-over, seven strokes off the pace and confident that the leaders will come back to the pack. "I've played Oakland Hills since 1961, and it hasn't changed in 35 years," Nicklaus said. "Tomorrow [today] it won't be any easier."

Phil Mickelson never materialized as a contender. He bogeyed four of the first seven holes yesterday and finished with a 73. He's 10-over for the tournament.

Bill Murchison (8-over), a member of the Nike Tour who qualified out of the sectional at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, brought his family to his second U.S. Open, and the traveling party is growing. His wife, Karen, is pregnant with their ninth child.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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