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SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF

A Fresh Look at Open Enrollment

June 12, 1998|THOMAS BONK

So is it going to be Ernie Els or Tiger Woods or Colin Montgomerie or Mark O'Meara or Fred Couples or somebody like them who is going to win the U.S. Open? It's hardly sporting to do it this way. Sure, it's easy to go with the favorites, the players with major titles or major games, but that's not the most compelling way to choose a champion.

For instance, who could have seen Andy North in 1978 (and again in 1985!) or Scott Simpson in 1987 or Corey Pavin in 1995 or Steve Jones in 1996?

As it turns out, for every Els or Raymond Floyd or Hale Irwin, there is a North or Jones.

So instead of going the obvious way, let's follow a slightly different path and see where it takes us next week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, where the 98th U.S. Open will be played.

Here are five players to watch. Maybe one of them will remove himself from golf's undercard forever.

* Jim Furyk: Sure, he has a funny-looking swing, but there's nothing funny about the way the 28-year-old plays majors. Furyk, fourth at this year's Masters, tied for fifth at the 1997 U.S. Open, was fourth at the British Open and tied for sixth at the PGA.

He is also playing well right now--second at the Colonial and fourth at the Memorial.

* Lee Westwood: Europe's rising star, he has won his last two events on the European PGA Tour. What's more, he flew from England to play the Buick Classic this week at Westchester, obviously not as intimidated by the length of the trans-Atlantic flight as the players sitting out this week to get ready for the Open at Olympic, so very far from New York, all the way over here on the West Coast.

Westwood, 25, laughed at questions about the travel distances. Maybe he was thinking about all the frequent flier miles he's racking up.

* Stuart Appleby: This Australian won last weekend at the Kemper, his second victory, which many consider a confidence-boosting figure, pointing to Justin Leonard's victory at last year's Kemper, followed by his victory at the British Open.

Appleby, 27, is a good thinker, not to mention a good long-iron player. He won at the Kemper with a three-iron from 240 yards to a blind green into a stiff breeze from a sidehill lie and got the ball to stop 15 feet from the hole after aiming at a hospitality tent. He two-putted to win by one.

* Scott Hoch: He was the guy who lost to Appleby, but still felt OK enough to applaud that three-iron into the wind. Hoch, 42, is accurate enough off the tee to make it at Olympic and clearly a good enough shotmaker.

Last year, Hoch tied for 10th at the U.S. Open and tied for sixth at the PGA. He tied for 16th this year at the Masters.

* Jeff Maggert: With three top 10s in the U.S. Open in the last four years, you have to say he's persistent. Maggert, 34, didn't exactly cover himself in glory the way he staggered home at Congressional last year, but he did finish fourth anyway. He also was third at the PGA.

This year, Maggert has two seconds and a fourth and he might be just the guy to find his way out of the rough at Olympic and win his first major.

Then again, maybe not.

ELS HURTS BACK

Els played nine holes at the Buick Classic, then withdrew because of back pain. Whether he will be able to defend his title at the Open depends on how he feels.

Els said he had back spasms Wednesday night and that his back was getting worse as Thursday's first round went on.

"When I turn my back I feel it, and at impact it's really bad. I'm hitting it only 230 yards with a big slice," he said.

Els returned to his home in Florida, and will consult with a doctor who has been treating Davis Love III and Couples.

"If it doesn't get better I can't play the way I want to [at the Open]. I'll check it out, but at least I've got a week, though obviously it's a day-to-day thing at this point. I certainly hope I can take care of this soon."

SWING THOUGHTS

Furyk, whose loopy swing has been described as an octopus falling out of a tree, was asked his favorite description of his swing:

"Effective," he said.

MORE FURYK

He had a quick answer when jokingly asked if he thought the USGA would ban unorthodox swings.

"If they do, they're going to have to take away all of Arnold Palmer's and Lee Trevino's records," he said.

TIGER UPDATE

Get ready, get set, get your controllers ready. Woods is about to make his first video game appearance.

Yes, that's right. Better let the news sink in a little bit before you try to move or you could get a little dizzy.

Called Tiger Woods '99, the PlayStation game was unveiled last weekend at the fourth Electronic Entertainers Expo in Atlanta, where more than 40,000 PC gamers showed up to see more than 1,600 new titles.

Here's what the news release had to say about Tiger's initial foray into videoland: "Sharp graphics and real-life poses, including Mr. Woods' famous fist pump, highlight this release."

Real-life poses featuring club-throwing might be included in the sequel.

IT'S JUST A DREAM

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