Stewart assumes lead role

Mickelson, Duval tied with ex-Open champ

June 19, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

PINEHURST, N.C. -- When his tee shot on the par-4 fifth hole rolled into a sand divot yesterday morning, Payne Stewart thought about what happened to him the day before in the opening round of the 99th U.S. Open.

More importantly, he also thought about what happened to him during the final round of last year's Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

On Thursday, it cost him a shot. Last year, it cost him a tournament.

"I was prepared for it mentally today," Stewart said.

Stewart's recovery from the sand divot was one of many obstacles the former Open champion overcame during a second round in which he shot a 1-under-par 69 to take a share of the lead at the Pinehurst Resort and Country Club.

At 3-under-par 137 through 36 holes, Stewart is tied with Phil Mickelson and David Duval. Four players -- former Mas ters champion Tiger Woods, reigning PGA champion Vijay Singh, former PGA champion Hal Sutton and Billy Mayfair -- are two shots behind.

"I got in position last year and I didn't play well enough to win the golf tournament," said Stewart, 42. "And I'm going to try to get myself back in position. I'm doing a pretty good job of it right at this second, but I still have 36 holes to play."

Stewart has been asked many times about Olympic, where he came into the final round with a four-shot lead and left one shot behind Lee Janzen after a 74. Stewart said he has never watched a tape of that round.

"Why bother seeing it?" he asked. "As long as I can get myself in position and deal with it better than I did last year, I know my golf game is better than it was last year. But yeah, there is some unfinished business."

That's sort of the way Woods feels as well. While he hasn't yet contended deep into an Open, he would like to show that he can follow up his 12-stroke victory at the Masters two years ago.

Looking for his third victory in as many events, Woods didn't play as well during a 1-over-par 71 yesterday as he did in Thursday's opening 68, but he seems more relaxed than at any major championship in his career.

"I'm a lot better than I was back in '97 or '98," Woods said, alluding to a tie for 19th at Congressional and a tie for 18th at Olympic. "My game is better, my swing is better. I'm stronger than I've ever been."

Physical strength alone will not win this Open, now that the sun and wind have dried out the course, in particular its crowned jewels -- what Woods called the "domed" greens.

Nobody it seems has a dome-course advantage.

Duval, one of four players to share the opening-round lead at 3 under par, twice reached 5 under before finishing back where he started after an even-par 70. It was pretty much what Duval expected.

Asked if he thought he might go lower than 5 under, Duval smiled.

"I haven't played in a lot of U.S. Opens, but I played enough to realize that I wasn't, so no, I didn't," said Duval, who is looking for his first major championship. "I was just glad to be there. As much as anything, it afforded you a few more mistakes."

Mickelson, another of the first-round leaders, fell to 2 under through six holes, got back to 4 under through 12 before making a bogey on the brutally tough 489-yard par-4 16th and winding up where he began after an even-par 70.

"You just don't know where you're going to make birdie," said Mickelson, 29, who like Duval is looking for his first major title while awaiting his wife Amy's delivery of their first child at the end of the month. "It's important not to try to make things happen and just keep making pars and let things happen."

The other two first-round leaders were not as fortunate.

Mayfair birdied the par-4 first hole to get to 4 under, but bogeyed the par-4 fifth and double-bogeyed the par-4 ninth before making nine straight pars on the back nine for a round of 2-over 72.

Journeyman Paul Goydos shot 4-over 74 to fall to 141.

In the past, Woods has been plagued by disastrous double-, triple- and even quadruple-bogeys at crucial times in major championships. So far this week, he has limited his mistakes to minor ones.

"I think when you get conditions as severe as they are in U.S. Opens or any major championships, you start seeing guys who can manage their game well, but on top of that strike the ball well," said Woods.

"Usually the guys at the top of the world rankings are better ball strikers, they're good managers of their games and emotions, so they can handle it. And that's the reason you see the same guys over and over at the top."

Duval, who has hung onto his ranking as the No. 1 player in the world despite not winning since The Players Championship in March, could be the best at that among those in contention.

"I think I'm suited for it because I'm patient," said Duval, 27. "I feel like I'm efficient at what this tournament demands, which is hitting the ball in the fairway and knocking it on the greens. I enjoy what it does to you as a player, how it makes you goofy at times. That's the beauty of this tournament."

As the winds came up, so did the scores. After producing 23 sub-par rounds Thursday, only three players shot under par and nine others shot even-par. Jeff Maggert and John Huston each matched Stewart to finish at 69. They are both at even-par 140.

"I think one of the reasons I do well at U.S. Opens is that I get a mind-set that par is a good score," said Stewart. "You're never losing to the field on any hole if you're making a par."

NOTES: The cut was made at 7-under-par 147. Among the prominent players to miss the cut were Lee Westwood of England (149), reigning British Open champion Mark O'Meara (150), former Masters champion Fred Couples (150) and two-time British Open champion Greg Norman (151).

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