Putter continues to betray Lehman In final twosome again, he ends at 6-over 286

U.S. Open notebook

June 22, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO -- The hurt was not as apparent. This time, Tom Lehman didn't go down to the bitter end before losing a chance at the U.S. Open title. This time, Lehman never gave himself a chance to be anything but disappointed in himself.

Playing in the final twosome at the Open for a record fourth straight year, Lehman started out by missing a three-foot putt for par on the 553-yard first hole. It set the tone on a day on which Lehman shot 5-over-par 75 and finished tied for fifth, six shots behind Lee Janzen at 6-over-par 286.

"I just never got it going," Lehman said. "If I sank one of those putts early, it might have been a different story."

As things turned out, it was the same problem that has followed Lehman since he was the PGA Tour's Player of the Year and British Open champion in 1996. He couldn't make any putts, pulling several birdie attempts badly and hitting others short.

"For the last two days, I had the hardest time reading greens," he said. "I couldn't figure out if the putts were going uphill or downhill. I was talking to my caddie and I asked him, but he said he couldn't. I said, 'I guess we're in big trouble.' "

Lehman was. He didn't come close to making the same kind of run that he did last year at Congressional, where bogeys on 16 and 17 left him two shots behind Ernie Els. Or Oakland Hills, where a bogey on 18 left him a shot behind Steve Jones. Or Shinnecock Hills in 1995, where he finished three shots behind Corey Pavin.

"The last thing I want to do right now is play golf," said Lehman, whose finish was still the best since he came in tied for second at the Players Championship in late March. "I'm just a little bit irritated with myself. If I keep playing this well, I'll win one or two or three. I'll get it right. I usually find a way."

Azinger is on with 65

Paul Azinger certainly wasn't shooting for this year's Open title when he started yesterday at 14-over par. But he was trying to secure a spot in next year's field in Pinehurst, N.C.

"I felt if I shot 65 I'd have a good shot at getting exempt next year," Azinger said. "And next year is where I won the tour championship in 1992."

A 5-under-par 65 by Azinger -- the best score in this year's Open and one off the record for the Lake Course -- left Azinger at 9-over 289, tying him for 14th. The top 15 players and those tied are exempt for next year's Open on the famed No. 2 course.

"It's been a long time since I had a round like that," said Azinger, whose finish was his best in a major since he tied for third in 1993, two months before he won the PGA Championship and four before being diagnosed with cancer. "I had a good Masters, but as a whole, it's been an empty well for me."

Kuchar struggles

Amateur sensation Matt Kuchar, who stayed in contention until the back nine Saturday, had problems on the front nine yesterday. After making a birdie on the first hole and a par on the second, Kuchar went bogey, bogey, double bogey.

"I was pretty disappointed," said Kuchar, who had been presented with a cake by some volunteers to celebrate his 20th birthday before the round and was later serenaded by some fans. "But I kept fighting back."

Kuchar wound up at 4-over 74 for the round and 9 over par for the Open, tied with Azinger, Jesper Parnevik and Jim Furyk. He finished the round by blowing a 20-foot birdie putt 18 feet down the hill, then came back to make the putt.

"Jack [Nicklaus] said to me, 'Go out with a bang,' " recalled Kuchar.

Said Peter Kuchar, who spent the week caddying and cheering for his son: "I think that putt got us invited back."

Kuchar said that his son's performance was as good a Father's Day present as he could receive. It came on the heels of his performance at the Masters, where he finished tied for 21st. His son will play in next month's British Open at Royal Birkdale.

"If the next 20 years are as good as what we encountered here, it's going to be a hell of a ride," Peter Kuchar said.

Though Matt Kuchar has given indications that he'd like to return to Georgia Tech for this junior year, Peter Kuchar seems to be keeping the door open.

"I'm kind of setting the table, and it's up to him to pick up what he wants from the table," the elder Kuchar said.

Woods frustrated

Tiger Woods finished his week much as he started it Thursday: PTC three-putting for bogey. He muttered in frustration as he picked up his ball and walked off the green after a final-round 73 left him at 10-over 290, tied for 18th.

"I didn't play all that well," Woods said. "I didn't quite make putts of 15 and 20 feet. I hit a lot of lips that didn't go in."

Since winning the Masters last year by 12 shots at 18-under par -- both records -- Woods has struggled in the majors.

Pub Date: 6/22/98

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