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U.S. OPEN / OAKLAND HILLS | NOTES

After Leaving Valley, Berganio Near Peak

June 14, 1996|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. — David Berganio, 27, of Sylmar, led the U.S. Open . . . for about two hours.

He was in the locker room Thursday with a one-under-par 69 that held up until early afternoon.

"This is fun, coming here and doing stuff like this," said Berganio, a qualifier who has missed the cut in two PGA Tour events this season and spent most of his time on the Nike Tour.

Oakland Hills Country Club is a long way from Pacoima, where Berganio was born to a mother on welfare. When he was in the seventh grade, Father George Miller, a parish priest at Guardian Angel Church, introduced him to golf.

"He was looking for something to keep me off the streets," Berganio said. "I could see myself going there. A lot of my friends were in trouble."

Berganio fell in love with the game and got to play at a mostly par-three course by picking up buckets at the course's driving range.

"There aren't many country clubs where I come from," said Berganio, who played at Arizona and turned pro in 1993.

*

In his 40th consecutive--and maybe last--U.S. Open, Jack Nicklaus began with a two-over-par 72 and missed enough birdie putts to fill up his bag.

"I had seven or eight putts inside 15 feet and I didn't make any of them," he said. "I saved some putts for par, but I didn't make birdies."

Nicklaus received a special exemption from the USGA to play at Oakland Hills.

Nicklaus has played in 138 consecutive majors, but he has said if he doesn't play well here, he won't play at the British Open next month.

"I had a chance to be in position with the contenders today, but I've blown that chance," he said. "I love to play golf when I play decently. To play competitively and decently is fun."

*

Hand this man a menu. Tom Watson made a 15-foot putt for a birdie at No. 18 and finished at par 70.

"That dinner's going to taste a lot better tonight," he said.

*

The Phil Mickelson watch continues. He may be the best player never to have won a major, but he kept the ball going in that direction again Thursday with a first-round 76.

Mickelson started double bogey, bogey and was five over after five holes.

"I'm in a tough situation now," he said. "I have to play exceptional golf now for me to have any kind of chance at it. As the saying goes, 'You can't win the tournament on Thursday.' I just hope I didn't lose it."

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