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Round Up the Unusual Suspects

June 13, 2003|THOMAS BONK

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — This edition of the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields has taken a few lumps, probably because it's being played on a course people don't know very well. There's no buzz, the critics have said.

This may be true, but we clearly are at the U.S. Open. It took only Thursday's first round to remind us that if you follow the simple signs, it's easy to know where you are.

Yes, the rough is high, the greens are firming up and the fairways are as narrow as vermicelli but that's normal. It's the oddball stuff that tells you this is the U.S. Open.

In other words, buzz this:

* Jay Don Blake fired a four-under-par 66 and was one shot out of the first-round lead. This is the same Jay Don Blake who has missed the cut the last four years and seven times in 11 years.

* David Duval, who shot a 62 last week, bogeyed four of the first five holes and nearly shot another 62 ... on the front nine. He hit two fairways and wound up with a 78, which left him behind nine of the 10 amateurs in the field. The only one Duval beat was a 16-year-old high school kid.

* Brian Davis of England, playing in his first U.S. Open, didn't make a par until the sixth hole, starting this way: eagle, birdie, birdie, birdie, double bogey. As the Open would have it, Davis finished with a 71.

* And how about the journey taken by Hunter Mahan on his way to a 74? Let's hope he was wearing a pith helmet. In order, Mahan went birdie, par, birdie, birdie, quadruple bogey, birdie, bogey, or 443 2844. That's a phone number, isn't it?

* Ernie Els, one of the most daring players this side of Phil Mickelson, had 17 pars and one birdie. He messed up a chance at perfect monotony with a birdie on his fifth hole.

* Meanwhile, Mickelson second-guessed his normally aggressive strategy. He said he wasn't going to be that way anymore. He said he was going to be even more aggressive. Many judged this to be flawed strategy for the U.S. Open. Mickelson cared not, and shot a 70, hitting four fairways. Only three players hit fewer.

* Sixteen-year-old qualifier Tom Glissmeyer shot a 40 on the front and a 40 on the back for a round of 80, thus scoring points for perfect symmetry, if nothing else.

Glissmeyer, who will be a junior in high school next fall at Colorado Springs, said he managed to control his nerves, right up to the moment he began his downswing at the first tee.

Later, Glissmeyer's caddie told the youngster his hand and arm had been shaking so much, he thought the kid was calling a taxi. All Glissmeyer could think of was hitting a bad one, like into the wrong fairway, or playing so poorly he was holding up Tiger Woods.

* Nothing much held up Woods, with the exception of not landing his ball on the fairway. He hit six fairways, signed his scorecard for an opening 70 and said he was glad he hadn't shot himself out of the tournament.

* U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes broke his driver while warming up and had to use an unfamiliar one, which is just what you don't want to do when you're in the same power bunch as Woods and Els. He adjusted well enough to shoot a one-over 71.

* At least Barnes talked. Colin Montgomerie, who likes to talk to reporters, and Vijay Singh, who doesn't, must have gotten together to declare a joint vow of silence, because they both blew off interviews. Montgomerie said he was too tired to talk after his round of 69. Here's guessing he wasn't too tired to have lunch.

This Olympia Fields, it's no secret anymore. Despite 44 players shooting par or better Thursday, this place isn't going to be a pushover after all, for two basic reasons.

One, the greens have more humps than a camel convention. And, two, the USGA has put the pins in places you should not visit without first making sure you're current on your health insurance premiums.

Woods pointed out the obvious bad news. The rough isn't going to get any lower, the greens aren't going to get any softer and the pin placements aren't going to be any easier. This is the USGA making a statement.

Have a nice tournament, gentlemen.

Anybody expecting anything different from the 103rd U.S. Open hasn't been paying attention. We've seen this many times before, like 102?

Check out some of the guys who did well in the first round: Blake, Stephen Leaney, Tom Gillis, Ian Leggatt. It is not a "Who's Who of Golf." It is more like a "Who's He?"

This often happens at the U.S. Open. In 1999 at Pinehurst, Paul Goydos had a share of the first-round lead. In 1996 at Oakland Hills, it was Woody Austin. In 1993 at Baltusrol, it was Joey Sindelar, and in 1991 at Hazeltine, it was Nolan Henke.

So, welcome, Brett Quigley, you are in fine company leading the U.S. Open. Of course, Quigley has never made the cut in the Open -- or any other major. We should have seen him coming.

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