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THE MASTERS

McCarron Is Playing, Talking as if He Belongs

Golf: He trails '94 champion Olazabal by one at halfway point.

April 10, 1999|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AUGUSTA, Ga. — On a wall not far from where Scott McCarron was talking Friday hung a makeshift Masters leaderboard, overloaded with what appeared to be an honor roll of past majors champions: Norman, Janzen, Price, Love, Langer, Olazabal.

McCarron's was up there too, prompting one intrepid reporter to clear his throat to pose the question that somehow, some way, had to be asked.

"Scott, don't be offended by this . . ." the audacious query began before McCarron, probably figuring what was coming, cut him off.

"I'm already offended," McCarron said with a laugh. "So don't ask it."

Too late. The interview had broached the point of no return.

Carefully, tentatively, McCarron was asked about the "lesser lights, the lesser-known names that sort of dot the leaderboard" every year at the Masters for the first couple of days and "fall away as the weekend progresses. . . ."

McCarron cut him off again. "You mean like Norman?" the golfer quipped.

Immediately the room filled with laughter as memories of Greg Norman's titanic 1996 Masters collapse momentarily distracted writers before they could run to their media guides to satisfactorily confirm, "McCarron? That with one 'r' or two?"

McCarron's inclusion on a luminary-heavy leaderboard was the biggest surprise of Friday's second round at Augusta National Golf Course, unless you're counting the great David Duval-Tiger Woods Duel Under the Dogwoods, which has degenerated into a gripping contest to see which golfing megastar can card the most bogeys.

McCarron shot a second-round 68 for a tournament total of 137, seven strokes under par and one stroke off the lead of Jose Maria Olazabal, the 1994 Masters champion, who shot 66 Friday for 136, eight strokes under par.

Next are Norman and Lee Janzen, at 139, followed by Nick Price and Davis Love III at 141. Bernhard Langer, winner at Augusta in 1985 and 1993, is six strokes off the lead, along with Colin Montgomerie, Justin Leonard, Steve Elkington, Bill Glasson and Brandel Chamblee, who shared the first-round lead with Love and McCarron.

Nowhere in the top 15, however, are Duval and Woods, this year's contribution to the theory that pre-Masters prognostications are as useful as a handful of bunker sand. Touted to "tee it off" for the mantle of global golfing supremacy, Woods and Duval are anchored down at 18th and 22nd, respectively--Woods at even-par 144, Duval at 145.

(For those scoring at home, Duval dusted Woods Friday, three bogeys to two, while countering Woods' triple-bogey eight on No. 8 Thursday with his own triple-bogey on No. 15. For the day, Duval was two over par at 74. Woods broke even again with a 72.)

For much of the day, it appeared Norman would take the tournament lead into the weekend, which might have been accompanied by a demand from the Humane Society to suspend play immediately. Norman's final-day fadeout in '96, when he blew a six-stroke lead and finished runner-up to Nick Faldo, was so painful to watch, so agonizing to endure, that neither Norman nor his gallery could physically withstand another fourth-day crusher.

Thankfully, a preemptive strike was launched later in the afternoon by an American who walked away from golf for 3 1/2 years--just gave it up to make baseball caps and play softball--and a Spaniard who couldn't walk away if he wanted to, because for 18 months in 1996 and 1997, he could hardly walk at all.

McCarron calls it his "sabbatical"--his 3 1/2-year retirement from golf after graduating from UCLA in 1988. "I was not good enough at the time to even turn pro, so I thought my dream of being on the PGA Tour was over," McCarron said. "So I did some other things."

That included starting a golf apparel company with his father and a hat-manufacturing company, getting his pilot's license, kayaking, tennis, softball and flag football.

"I didn't do a lot in high school, because I was playing so much golf," said McCarron. So he basically played catch-up from 1988 to 1991, when a decent showing at the U.S. Mid-Amateur rekindled the fire. After spending 1992 moonlighting between golf and his real job--"And did both of them very mediocre," McCarron points out--he turned pro in 1992 and in '93 qualified for the Canadian tour.

From there, McCarron went on to win a couple of PGA tournaments in 1996 and 1997, earning him passage to the Masters, where he finished tied for 10th in '96, tied for 30th in '97, tied for 16th in '98--and begins the third round of the '99 session one stroke out of the lead.

Olazabal's sabbatical was not self-determined. Chronic foot pain put him on the shelf for 18 months while doctors struggled to determine the cause of the pain. For two of those months, Olazabal could not walk at all.

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