PINEHURST, N.C. -- Steve Stricker can relate to what Phil Mickelson is going through at this year's U.S. Open, playing the role of would-be father with his first major championship in reach.
At last year's PGA Championship, Stricker was tied for the lead going into the final round while his wife, Nicky, was two weeks from giving birth to their first child. Stricker lost to Vijay Singh by two shots.
"Yeah, I was prepared to pull out of the PGA Championship last year," Stricker said yesterday. "I didn't have a beeper like Phil has, but I had a private line, and I could make it home as quickly as possible."
Mickelson's beeper didn't make any noise during the third round of the 99th Open here at Pinehurst No. 2, but Stricker did. A 1-under par 69 -- the only subpar round of the day -- put Stricker into contention.
Though Stricker cooled off after an incredible start by bogeying two of the last three holes, his eagle from a fairway bunker on the par-4 third hole became the shot of the tournament. It followed a 40-foot birdie on the par-4 first.
Stricker, who holed an 8-iron from 137 yards away to get to even-par, is at 2-over par for the tournament, three strokes behind third-round leader Payne Stewart.
"I think I've learned a lot from the U.S. Open, playing with [champion] Lee Janzen, and playing with Vijay in the last round of the PGA," said Stricker, 32, who tied for fifth in last year's Open.
"I was able to see how they won. It's hard to put into words. They stayed really patient. I could tell they were battling nerves too. I know when I get into contention, especially in a major, I really get ahead of myself."
Stricker recalled how hard it was for him to deal with his emotions at the PGA because of his pending fatherhood. But he said he eventually settled down and used it as positive motivation, something he figures Mickelson might do today.
"It looks like he's really focused, the times I've seen him on TV," said Stricker. "It looks like he's on a mission a little bit. Amy being pregnant probably relaxes him a little bit and turns some of the focus away from the U.S. Open."
Bumpy for `Lumpy'
This is by far the closest Tim Herron has ever come to being in contention at a U.S. Open. The former Nike Tour player whose nickname is "Lumpy" missed the cut his first two tries and finished tied for 53rd last year.
Having won earlier this year at Bay Hill, and coming off a tie for second last week at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, Herron finds himself two shots off the lead at 1-over par 211 after an even-par 70 yesterday.
"The U.S. Open is probably not my style of golf, because I don't drive it really straight," said Herron, 29. "But this week I'm driving it good and the last six months I've driven it really good."
Pub Date: 6/20/99