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SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF / THOMAS BONK

Lehman's Chances Not Open-Ended

June 20, 1997|THOMAS BONK

For those who insist there's nothing wrong with the U.S. Open that can't be fixed with a lawn mower and a couple of chain saws, it is time to commiserate with hard-luck Tom Lehman.

He is bound to be over with what happened Sunday by now, isn't he?

At 10:30 a.m., when the fourth round started, Lehman's name was mentioned in the same sentence as Bobby Jones in U.S. Open history. By nightfall, he was in the same

sentence as Jacques Cousteau on a deep-sea dive.

Lehman became the first man to hold the 54-hole lead in three consecutive U.S. Opens since the legendary Jones in 1928-30.

But whereas Jones won two of those, Lehman is still looking for his first. The way it's going, you have to wonder whether it's ever going to happen for him or whether he's going to end up like Sam Snead, for whom the Open door remained closed.

Snead virtually perfected the art of finishing second in the Open. He did it in 1937, 1947, 1949 and 1953. And although he won 81 tournaments, including seven majors, he never won the U.S. Open.

At 38, Lehman isn't exactly out of chances, but you have to wonder about the residual effects created by being right there three years in a row and not closing it out. Realistically, how many chances does a player get, even one as talented and doggedly determined as Lehman?

The fact is, Lehman lost in very unlikely fashion--he bogeyed the 16th and 17th holes from the middle of the fairway.

His seven-iron on No. 16 came up short and in the rough. Lehman didn't get up and down and his bogey dropped him out of the lead.

At No. 17, Lehman had nearly identical yardage to the pin, about 189 yards. With his seven-iron, he caught it a little heavy and the ball turned too much, glanced off the bank and into the water. He wound up with another bogey and third place.

Plenty of players have lost U.S. Opens--most of them, in fact. But for Lehman, it was extremely hurtful because he was again in position to win and lost instead, again.

Bogeying the 70th and 71st holes from the middle of the fairway is not something from which Lehman can take a lot of positives.

"Losing three years in a row, this is probably the toughest one," he said.

"I'm just very, very--I guess you would say bitterly-- disappointed that I didn't pull it off."

MONTY THE VICTIM

Colin Montgomerie had plenty of excuses--from rain delays (before he even teed off) to fans cheering missed putts, to fans he said drank too much, to closing holes too close together--so Tom Boswell of the Washington Post offered the Open runner-up some free advice: Forgive your own failings and stop blaming "them."

Wrote Boswell, "Before he gets home to Troon, Montgomerie might look up the records of Arnold Palmer, who was runner-up in nine majors, or Tom Watson, who 'failed' by finishing second in a major seven times. Monty needs to learn the lesson that Tiger [Woods] may have grasped already: Golf's majors will punch you often enough all by themselves. Don't beat yourself up to boot."

IT'S ERNIE TIME

South African Ernie Els, who prevailed at Congressional, is the first foreign player since Alex Smith to win the U.S. Open twice. Smith, a Scot, won in 1906 and 1910.

Eight months past his 27th birthday, Els also is the youngest since Jack Nicklaus in 1967 to have won two U.S. Open titles.

RATINGS GAME

If it was a good weekend for Els, it was also a very good one for NBC, even if Woods wasn't in contention.

The network averaged a 6.1 rating for Saturday and Sunday at the Open, up 30% over last year and the highest weekend rating in 10 years.

Saturday's rating was 5.4, up 32% over 1996 (4.1), and the highest Saturday rating in 10 years. Sunday's rating was 6.8, up 28% over 1996 (5.3) and the highest Sunday rating in five years.

MR. JET SET

Who calls a news conference to announce he has just bought a $30.5-million jet?

Why, Greg Norman, of course.

He isn't exactly golf's Everyman, not with helicopters and Ferraris, $60,000 fax machines and now a spiffed-up version of Boeing's 737 jetliner.

Last week before the U.S. Open, Norman announced he had just bought one of the aircraft and said he intended to spend $8 million more to juice it up a little bit.

The usual 737 can seat about 105, but through customizing, this new version that Norman bought, called a BBJ, will seat fewer than half that number. The BBJ features one or more offices, several bedrooms, a conference room, crew quarters and an exercise room.

There has been no mention of a putting green . . . yet.

Besides buying one, Norman also is endorsing the aircraft. He signed a seven-year, multimillion-dollar deal with Boeing.

STYLE

For what it's worth, when Woods shot a 65 at the Masters, he immediately went out and hit balls on the practice range. When Montgomerie shot a 65 at the U.S. Open, he had lunch.

GREENING OF BROWNE

Olin Browne isn't really a big name and hasn't won a PGA Tour event, but the 38-year-old from Florida finished tied for fifth at the Open and continued to stand out in interesting ways.

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