Another 274 would suit Beem fine

Soft turf seen as factor

greens draw praise

Kemper Open

June 01, 2000|By Sam Borden | Sam Borden,SUN STAFF

POTOMAC -- Rich Beem won last year's Kemper Insurance Open by carding a 10-under 274 for four rounds at Avenel. If Beem were a betting man, he'd take that score this year and be pretty confident where it would leave him.

"I think it's going to be around 11- or 12-under this year again," said Beem, who came from relative obscurity to claim the wire-to-wire victory last year. "And with the rain we've had, I don't think there's any question that someone who hits a long, high ball will win this time out."

But while the early-week precipitation has definitely left a mark on the course, the players have raved about the new bentgrass and ryegrass fairways.

And while tournament organizers are loath to remember 1997, when they presented pock-marked greens to the world during the 1997 edition of the event, this year's putting surfaces are drawing nothing but compliments.

"The greens are pure, the best I've seen them," said 1995 champion Lee Janzen. "There's a lot of spots out there where you can get into trouble. It's a course that requires some serious patience."

At one point during its history, the Kemper was traditionally played the week before the U.S. Open (set this year for Pebble Beach), but most players think that that while the Avenel layout is challenging, it isn't necessarily the best preparation for the national championship.

"It's got some heavy rough in some places like the Open, and it has potential," said 1998 winner Stuart Appleby, "but I don't think that it can re-enact what we'll see in California this time of year."

Of course, for former University of Maryland golf coach and onetime Laurel resident Fred Funk, the course could be underwater and this week would still be important to him. Thinking back on his final-round collapse here in 1998, the memory of his 77 on Sunday still hurts.

"This is one tournament, other than the majors, that I'd really love to win," he said. "I think I just wanted it too much [in '98]. I got half the dream - I was in the last group coming down 18, but just didn't do it."

Mixed on Martin

Though many fans were talking about Casey Martin's newest battle - the PGA Tour has announced it will appeal to the Supreme Court his court-awarded decision that allows him to ride a cart at tour events - the majority of the other players were unfazed.

When asked about the tour's claims that it is not motivated by anything personal toward Martin, but rather by a principle, the reactions were mixed.

"I thought it was a done deal," said Robert Allenby, a winner for the first time in the Shell Houston Open in April. "I think he should be given the chance to play golf. His leg could go at anytime. He was born that way, so it should only be fair that he be allowed to play. He's a good player and it's a good thing that he can play right now."

Other players were more understanding of the tour's position, even if they supported Martin being allowed to compete with the aid of the cart.

"It's not so much that we're against Casey Martin riding in a cart, but that we're against outside agencies telling us what to do," said Steve Elkington.

It comes and goes

Prior to last week's Memorial event, much of this season had been a struggle for 1997 British Open champion Justin Leonard, who won the Kemper in 1997, hadn't recorded a top-10 finish since the first week of the year and hadn't played on the weekend in his last two tournaments. But a 66-68 finish gave Leonard a tie for second and has many at Avenel calling him a favorite this week.

"What a difference a week makes," Leonard said, laughing. "Wednesday of last week, guys were handing out straitjackets for me. It's not like `poof!' I'm playing great. I had a good week last week and I need to build off that."

No pro-am for Daly

John Daly was an early morning withdrawal from yesterday's pro-am, in which he was scheduled to tee off at 1:05 p.m. With a 7:51 a.m. start in today's first round, and the notorious length of pro-am rounds, Daly's caddie, Ronnie McCann, said a late afternoon wouldn't help his player be ready for the tournament proper."`It would have been a too-late day," McCann said. "It just wouldn't be the best way for him to get ready."

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