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U.S. OPEN AT OLYMPIA FIELDS, ILL.

They Can Get Down, Way Down

Singh ties Open record with 63 to share lead with Furyk at seven-under 133. It's the lowest 36-hole total in event history, but seven are within three strokes of them.

June 14, 2003|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — Somewhere between the beast of Bethpage Black and here, the U.S. Open became a relative pitch-and-putt.

What is annually advanced as the meanest, most penal and toughest test of golf has turned into a game of "How low can you go?"

Friday's second-round leaderboard was flushed red, which might also describe the faces of USGA officials.

Vijay Singh tied an Open record with a seven-under 63 and, had he not three-putted No. 6 and narrowly missed a birdie attempt on No. 17, it could have easily been a 61.

Any dare to bid for a 59?

At day's end at Olympia Fields, which was playing more like Coors Field, Singh and Jim Furyk shared the 36-hole lead at seven-under 133.

Furyk shot four-under 66 on Friday to go with his opening-round 67.

The 36-hole total of 133 represented the lowest posted in U.S. Open history -- and two players did it.

Guys you never heard of were having the times of their lives here -- men from Australia, Argentina and Sweden, old men and young.

Stephen Leaney and Jonathan Byrd -- full-fledged members of Golfers Anonymous -- are two shots behind the lead at five-under 135.

Leaney shot a two-under 68 on Friday and Byrd fired a four-under 66.

Chances are if you brought your clubs this week and could fog a mirror, you are still alive and a contender in this 103rd U.S. Open.

Five players lurk only three shots back at 136 -- Nick Price, Justin Leonard, Eduardo Romero, Fredrik Jacobson and Tiger Woods.

Believe it or not, Woods, the defending champion, has sort of just been plodding along here, shooting a 66 on Friday to go with his first-round 70.

But this is a plodder's paradise, with conditions so favorable balls are sticking to greens as if they were made of Velcro.

Woods hit a six-iron toward the flag at No. 9 and the ball all but nestled right up to the cup.

"It only rolls 2 1/2, three feet," Woods said. "You never see that in a U.S. Open, hitting a six-iron and it barely trickling."

This is not by design. Golf experts and turf doctors spend months trying to knock the birdies out of U.S. Open courses. They grow out the rough and buzz-cut the greens.

Quite frankly, USGA folks like very much to watch the world's best golfers suffer under the glare of international media scrutiny.

In the last five U.S. Opens, for instance, only seven players total have finished under par.

Last year, at Bethpage Black in Long Island, Woods was the only player to finish in the red. In 1998, Lee Janzen won the U.S. Open at even-par 280.

Fast-forward to now: at the end of second-round play at Friday's Open, 26 players were under par with 13 more hovering at even-par 140.

There were 38 subpar rounds shot Friday.

There is no mystery as to why: Olympia Fields was not the most difficult of courses to start with. That, coupled with little wind and damp, overcast conditions, has made this a birdie sanctuary.

"It's just that the greens are so soft," Woods said.

The USGA can only hope the greens firm up over the weekend or else 15 under might win this tournament.

Not that the players are complaining.

Singh firmly positioned himself for a weekend run with his record-tying 63. He joined Johnny Miller, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf as the only players to shoot 63 in a U.S. Open.

Singh, playing in the afternoon, turned in a masterful, robotic performance in the face of controversy that has dogged him since he told an Associated Press reporter he hoped Annika Sorenstam would miss the cut at the Colonial last month.

At the 14th green Friday, a heckler was ejected after making a comment to Singh about Sorenstam.

But nothing seems to faze this Fijian.

Singh said later a gesture he made with his putter was directed at his caddie, not the heckler.

As for those who have scorched him about Sorenstam?

"I don't read too much newspapers," Singh said. "I don't let things like that bother me."

It took Singh's 63 to steal the headline from Furyk, who figured the seven-under 133 he took to the clubhouse after his morning round was going to merit top billing.

Furyk, a solid player, had another solid round with 14 pars, four birdies and no bogeys.

He hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation.

With 10 top-10 finishes this year, Furyk was a dark-horse favorite to win his first major title here.

The man known for having the funkiest swing in golf also happens to be one of the tour's most consistent players.

Like all the golf-playing kids in his neighborhood growing up, Furyk wanted to mimic the velvet-smooth swing of Fred Couples, but it just didn't fit with his natural hiccup hitch.

Thankfully, no $100-an-hour swing doctor ever tried to turn Furyk into Couples.

"You'd have to be a pretty cold person to walk up to a 15-year-old and tell him his swing stunk," Furyk said.

Instead, people berated Jim's dad, who served as his coach.

"If I took my swing and made it look like the textbook, perfect swing when I was a kid, I may not be sitting here today," Furyk said. "I may not have turned out to be a good player."

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