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FOCUS ON GOLF / U.S. OPEN

He Avoided the Rush to Tap the Tiger

June 12, 1997|MIKE JAMES

John Lyberger didn't hesitate when asked who he thought would win this year's U.S. Open. He says he had pretty much figured that out a year ago. And by late last August, he knew who the player to beat was.

Lyberger is the head professional at Congressional Country Club. He knows the creeks, trees, lakes and rolls of the greens as well as anyone. And he knows what the course will look like during this week's tournament.

"My pick was Tiger, even before he won the Amateur," Lyberger said of Tiger Woods' third consecutive victory in the U.S. Amateur 10 months ago. "And after he won and went on tour, I said, 'A guy with that kind of length could really play well here.'

"You take a player who hits it that far and who hits such high shots, which is what you need here, especially with the greens as firm as they'll be for the Open. If you look at the past winners here [at Congressional, at 7,213 yards, the longest Open course in history], they've all been long bombers."

Lyberger says the finishing holes, 13 through 18, will test the players, including the controversial par-three 18th. The Open hasn't finished on a par-three since 1909.

"They're very tough," he says. "You just buckle up and hang on.

"We can have 30,000 people around [17 and 18], and they can see both greens without moving. On the 18th, the banks will be shaved to half an inch, so anything that's short will be wet. Like Tiger did [when he won the Mercedes Championship in a sudden-death playoff with Tom Lehman, hitting a six-iron eight inches from the pin], it's one swing, here it is."

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