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Saturday, June 20, 2009

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Second Round Complete: Barnes Sets Record

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Farmingdale, N.Y. – Long hitters, short hitters.

Big guys, small guys.

First-timers, long-timers.

Superstars, qualifiers.

Professionals, amateurs.

New York City considers itself a cultural melting pot.

So why can’t the 2009 U.S. Open leaderboard at Bethpage Black on Long Island have an eclectic mix of contenders?

With all the crazy weather, isn’t it just par for the course?

Heck, we might even see a 72-hole scoring record. Did anyone think Tiger Woods’ 12-under-par number at Pebble Beach in 2000 would be in jeopardy this week on the Black? Maybe in the Virtual U.S. Open. But certainly not on the second-longest course in championship history.

At the midway point of the rain-delayed championship, the unexpected leader – Ricky Barnes – is a guy with more U.S. Open appearances as an amateur (three) than as a pro (two). The 2002 U.S. Amateur champion and ’09 PGA Tour rookie carded a 5-under-par 65 for a 36-hole U.S. Open-record total of 132 (eight under). The previous mark of 133 was established in 2003 by Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club, another wet Open plagued by soft conditions early in the championship.

Could the 72-hole mark of 272 be in reach?

“It's pretty cool,” said Barnes of the record. “My ball‑striking was probably the most impressive part of the first 36 holes.”

One stroke behind Barnes was Lucas Glover, who hadn’t made a cut in three previous U.S. Open appearances, but carded the second 64 of this Open for a 133 total.

Another stroke back was Canadian Mike Weir, a medium-length hitter bidding to become the first left-handed U.S. Open champion. Weir followed his first-round 64 with an even-par 70 and sits at 133.

Four players were tied for fourth at 3-under 137, including first-timer Azuma Yano of Japan, who posted a 65, the suddenly revived David Duval, making his first U.S. Open appearance in three years, and Sweden’s Peter Hanson.

The group at 138 includes Canadian amateur and University of Washington All-American Nick Taylor, who shot a 65 to tie the 18-hole Open scoring mark by an amateur. James Simon (1971) and James McHale (1947) each shot that number in the third round at Merion and St. Louis Country Club, respectively.

“My 66 last year at nationals (NCAA Championship) was a really good round,” said Taylor, who missed the cut last year at Torrey Pines. “This one is way up there. The course is pretty soft which makes scoring a little easier, but a 65 in any event is unreal.”

Surprisingly, two of the favorites have some catch-up work. Fan favorite and four-time U.S. Open runner-up Phil Mickelson shot a 70 and sits at 1-under 139. Defending champion Tiger Woods bogeyed his final hole for a second consecutive day and posted a 69 and is 11 shots behind Barnes at 143.

The cut (low 60 and ties) came at 4-over 144, with exactly 60 players qualifying for the final 36 holes. Notables to miss included Padraig Harrington, Paul Casey and two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els.

After repairing and sending out the players in groups of twos off both the first and 10th tees, the third round did begin at 5:30 p.m., but the final groups never got started due to a suspension for heavy rains at 6:55 p.m. Glover and Barnes were scheduled to start at 7:22 p.m. USGA officials hope to resume the third round at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday and play the final round later in the day.

Looking at the forecast late Friday night, some might have thought the second round might carry over until Sunday. It did rain, but not hard enough to suspend play until early in the third round. Forty-four golfers had teed off when play was suspended.

“I didn't think we were going to get it in,” said Steve Stricker after shooting a 4-under 66 to get to 1-under 139 for the championship. “It's nice to be finished. We're only halfway done believe it or not, and it's Saturday afternoon.”

As was the case on Friday, the golfers who avoided playing on Thursday were blessed with the best conditions. The projected rain did arrive around mid-day on Saturday, but after the originally scheduled Thursday afternoon wave had completed 36 holes. Again, those unfortunate competitors with the original Thursday morning starting times needed Gore-Tex and umbrellas.

Lee Westwood was the only golfer from that original Thursday morning wave to position himself among the top 10 through 36 holes. The Englishman, who was one stroke shy of being in last year’s 18-hole Monday playoff, carded a 66 for a 138 total.

“We've all been on both ends of the draw,” said Weir. “You get good, you get bad. And there's no question, our side of the draw got the better side of it. [Do I] feel sympathy? I don't know about that. I don't think anybody feels sympathy out here.”

Over the years, the U.S. Open has produced its share of surprise 36- and 54-hole leaders, and Barnes certainly can be placed in that category. Since turning pro in 2003 following a stellar amateur career, the 28 year old has yet to win on either the Nationwide or PGA tours. And nothing about his ’09 results would have indicated a strong performance at Bethpage. His best finish in 12 PGA Tour starts was a T-47 last week in Memphis, Tenn. That performance came after enduring 36 holes of sectional qualifying in Columbus, Ohio, where he shot 9-under 135 to make the U.S. Open field.

After a solid opening 67, Barnes played a bogey-free second round, collecting birdies at 11, 16, two, five and eight (he started on No. 10). He’s hit 31 of 36 greens.

“Pretty stress‑free,” said Barnes.

Now those are two words not often uttered at the U.S. Open. Then again, nobody could have foreseen the amount of rain this area has received in June.

“Could I have predicted I would shoot 132? No,” said Barnes, a former All-American at the University of Arizona. “Did I know I had it in me? Yeah. I'm starting to play well. I’m working hard on my game on and off the golf course. I’ve proven that after finally earning my PGA Tour card this year; to be able to settle the nerves once I got kind of up near the lead and kind of improve on it. I think, says a lot about it.”

Perhaps it was a case of nerves that cost Glover a chance at tying the 18-hole scoring mark of 63 held by four other golfers, including Jack Nicklaus. He faced a 20-foot birdie putt at the ninth hole (his last), but left it short.

“I thought about it,” said Glover in his southern drawl. “Then I [chickened] out and left it short. But, yeah, I had a good read, right-edge read. [I thought 63] would be pretty cool, and I left it short. I wasn't going to run it by five feet either.”

As for finally figuring out a strategic game plan for U.S. Open setups, the 29-year-old Glover said it’s a matter of finding fairways.

“I think I knew what to prepare a little bit more for,” said the 2001 USA Walker Cup member. “I concentrated on hitting my driver, hitting it straighter and [holing] a lot of 6‑footers because you're going to have those for par around here eventually. With three missed cuts, I knew what to expect and what I needed to work on.”

Westwood moved into a share of seventh with a second-nine 32.

“I've always been pretty mentally strong,” said Westwood of having to endure the tough weather conditions. “You end up on the good side of the draw a few times, these things tend to even themselves out and you get the bad side of the draw.

“I just went out with the idea of trying to be in front on my side of the draw, and, you know, I've managed to do that, so I'm delighted.”

A year ago, Westwood was in the final group with Woods on Sunday, but came up just short. Still searching for that elusive major title, Westwood feels much stronger for that experience.

“Yeah, I've always wanted to win a major … [and last year] gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. “I've driven the ball well for two days. I haven't missed many fairways and hit a lot of greens. [On Friday] I gave myself a lot of chances and worked on it in the nice weather and got a bit more rhythm into my stroke and it's paid off today. I had 27 putts today and that's the difference between 72 and 66.”

David Shefter is a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.


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