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Cinderella's Story Has Nothing on Jason Gore's

June 19, 2005|THOMAS BONK

PINEHURST, N.C. — He got here Monday without his underwear, his car stereo, his computer and his hopes. Six days later, Jason Gore has a shot to win the U.S. Open, and chances are things might look a lot brighter to him.

For Gore, the road has been long and winding enough without having his car broken into and ransacked last Sunday in Asheville, N.C., where he and his wife spent the night on their way here.

Megan Ann Gore had all her clothes stolen except what she was wearing. At least the burglars didn't get Gore's clubs because his caddie had them, and that's the good news for Gore, besides the fact that he's tied for second with one day to go.

That he's even playing for the title is the stuff of fairy tales. Gore hasn't been in a PGA Tour event in two years, ever since he lost his card in 2003 when he was 177th on the money list and didn't earn enough to keep his playing privileges.

Since then, Gore has been traveling through golf's minor leagues, trying to make a living, which has amounted to $29,879 in seven Nationwide Tour events this year.

Gore, 31, hasn't been able to play as much as he wants because he lost his playing privileges on the Nationwide Tour. Just to keep playing anything, Gore even turned to the Golden State Tour, where the players put up their own money to enter and then try to take everybody else's. He didn't get into the Open until he qualified for it.

This is the opposite end of the spectrum from Tiger Woods, with his multimillion-dollar yacht and platinum-quality game. Gore's life is not exactly a glamorous, carefree escapade, but he says he won't complain.

So while Gore is scuffling around, trying to scrape together a career and find a car stereo and some new underwear, here comes a stage like the U.S. Open, and there he is, discovering the role of a lifetime.

There must be a lot of happy Gore fans at his hangouts -- Valencia Country Club, the TPC of Valencia, Robinson Ranch and even Vista Valencia, the cozy 4,366-yard, par-61 layout where he spent so much time getting ready for a moment just like this.

The years have passed quickly since Gore won the 1997 California State Amateur and the California State Open in back-to-back weeks. He played on the winning Walker Cup team that same year. At Pepperdine, where Gore transferred after leaving the University of Arizona, he played on an NCAA championship team.

Many times, Sheldon Gore caddied for his son, and they spent a lot of time together on the course. Only it wasn't nearly enough. The day in 1997 when Gore was supposed to fly to Boise for his first Nike Tour event after turning pro, his father died of a heart attack.

Five years later, Gore won the Boise Open and dedicated the victory to his father.

On Father's Day today, Jason will celebrate with his son, 8-month-old Jaxon William, and no matter what happens at Pinehurst No. 2, Gore has every reason to party.

From the looks of things, there is a lot of Gore to go around. He carries a hefty 235 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame and with his shirt buttoned up right under his neck, he appears even bulkier.

For exactly six minutes Saturday afternoon, Gore had the lead by himself. Retief Goosen made a double bogey at the 13th hole before Gore finished playing the 14th.

It wasn't an advantage that stood the test of time. Gore wound up with a double bogey himself and fell out of the lead.

But as far as special moments go, leading the U.S. Open on Saturday isn't such a bad deal, no matter how long it lasts.

What happened Saturday was the golf course knocking the best players in the world on their backsides.

The fact that Gore was among them should convince him that he has a chance to become more than a six-minute leader, that he's right to believe in himself, just like he has been saying to anyone who has asked him this week.

He called himself a "no-name" after he shared the 36-hole lead, but that's not being fair to himself. At the U.S. Open, that's where names are made. Besides, back in Valencia, at the courses where he learned to play the game, Gore is far from being an unfamiliar name.

The big time at the U.S. Open might not be the space Gore is used to occupying, but that's just where he is.

He even birdied the last hole and got to pump his fist in front of a cheering crowd.

There's probably a lesson to be learned here. He has given everyone who roots for the little guy something to think about -- even if the guy isn't that little -- because his dreams are big.

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