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Sunday, June 21, 2009

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A Championship With A Unique Flavor

Wet 18th Green
The U.S. Open this week will be remembered as much for the weather is it will be the champion. (John Mummert/USGA)

Every U.S. Open has a distinctive atmosphere, but this year's seems even more quirky than usual

By Stuart Hall

Farmingdale, N.Y. — The history of the 2009 U.S. Open has yet to be written — and will not be for at least a day, maybe two. But this national championship almost certainly will be remembered for the weather as much as the winner.

The unpredictability of the forecast rivals only the unlikely name at the top of the leaderboard, world No. 519 Ricky Barnes. The 2002 U.S. Amateur champion has turned Bethpage State Park’s Black Course a shade of crimson, becoming only the fourth player in the 109-year history of the Open to reach double digits under par, which he did midway through his third round on Sunday afternoon.

Since play began under threatening skies and steady rain on Thursday morning, this U.S. Open has been the exact opposite, weather-wise, of last year, when world No. 1 Tiger Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in a Monday playoff that concluded an idyllic week along the Pacific Coast.

Some might suggest that this U.S. Open has taken on a certain quirky flavor, much like mixing Rocky Road ice cream with Neapolitan.

“It is what it is,” said 2006 U.S. Open winner Geoff Ogilvy. “You can’t control what’s going on, so you just go out and play.”

Whenever that might be. Tee times and resumptions in play have been backed up like Friday traffic from New York City on the Long Island Expressway. Consider the draw of Lucas Glover.

Glover was scheduled to tee off in Thursday’s afternoon session. But that was a wash when play was suspended at 10:15, and then later halted for the day as the rain continued. He eventually teed off around lunchtime on Friday, amid sun and ideal scoring course conditions.

He would play 31 holes on Friday and then come back on Saturday morning to finish his remaining five holes. Glover was in with a dry 7-under 133, one shot back of Barnes and one of 11 players under par who benefited from the dry draw.

Conversely, reigning major champions Woods (U.S. Open), Angel Cabrera (Masters) and Padraig Harrington (British Open and PGA) played the majority of their opening two rounds with rain, varying from light to heavy, falling. Through two rounds, Woods was a distant 11 shots back of Barnes, prepared to tie the U.S. Open record for largest 36-hole comeback in the unlikely event he could repeat as champion.

“You realize you've got the short end of the stick,” said Steve Stricker, who was also a part of the soggier morning/afternoon draw. “But you can't dwell on that. I've done that in the past, where you sit there and tell yourself that you got the raw end of the deal.”

The third round officially began at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, but once again rain, and not darkness, eventually halted play. For Glover and others with a late third-round tee time, that meant another day of little to no golf.

“I wanted to play golf,” said Glover, who made a trip to the grocery store during the lengthy wait between the second and third rounds. “When you stay in your room for seven or eight hours, you start to get stir crazy and you just want to get started.”

Stewart Cink has been around enough U.S. Opens to know that it is a different sort of event, even under the most ideal of conditions. Yet he readily admits that this one has taken on a quirky character.

“There are a lot of reasons this championship feels bizarre,” he said. “The golf course is unique, the fans are wild, the shuttles … I’ve been on so many shuttles already this week.

“But it’s the U.S. Open, and these things just add another element of difficulty to this golf championship. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy. The U.S. Open is always a mental test, but I think now it becomes even more of a physical test. Physical fitness and youth are going to be a factor.”

Barnes takes a more philosophical view.

“It’s kind of like being stuck in an airport and they won’t refund you, but you’ll come back and you’ll get to your destination every once in a while.”

So far, at least, that approach seems to be working for him.

Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.usopen.com.


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