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End of rain-soaked U.S. Open in sight

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Ron Green Jr.
June 22, 2009
— The end of this weather-challenged, mud-caked U.S. Open is in sight.

The question now is how will it end?


It resumes at 8 a.m. (CDT) today with former Clemson golfer Lucas Glover and rediscovered Ricky Barnes tied for the lead, five shots clear of Phil Mickelson and three others at soggy Bethpage Black, all of them having just begun their final round.


The leaderboard suggests it’s a two-man battle, matching the understated Glover against the formerly brash Barnes, who only recently reintroduced himself to a tour where he was once expected to be a star.


However, little about this U.S. Open has gone according to plan, which explains why the co-leaders (tied at 7 under par) begin the day facing their approach shots on the par-4 second hole, returning to where they were when play was suspended Sunday due to darkness at 6:58 p.m.


Neither Glover nor Barnes has a strong record as finishers. Glover’s best major result is a tie for 20th in the 2007 Masters while Barnes, the 2002 U.S. Amateur champion, has never finished in the top 10 of a PGA Tour event.


“Who knows how big a collapse there’ll be at the top of the leader board,” NBC announcer Johnny Miller said before signing off Sunday evening. “It could be a massive collapse…It is a possibility.”


Glover knows why there are doubters about their ability to win Monday. He ranks 87th in final-round scoring average on the tour this year, slightly better than he ranked the previous two years.


“First time I made the cut at an Open. Won one tournament…But Ricky and I are playing better than everybody right now,” he said.


Mickelson, who has played two holes in his final round, looms as the most imposing presence behind the leaders, tied with David Duval, Ross Fisher and Hunter Mahan.


Tiger Woods, meanwhile, is seven strokes behind with 11 holes remaining.


Mickelson played himself back into contention by holing long birdie putts at the 16th and 18th holes in the third round, fueling dreams of a victory while his wife, Amy, is battling breast cancer.


“Only two players are ahead of me,” said Mickelson, the overwhelming crowd favorite. “If I could get a hot round going, I could make up some ground.


“You never know what’s going to happen in this event.”


That proved true on Sunday, which, following form, didn’t play out as scheduled.


The planned 6:30 a.m. start was pushed back to noon due to heavy overnight rain, ending any hope of finishing the Open on Sunday.


Barnes, in his first year on the PGA Tour after six years on the Nationwide Tour, became only the fourth player in U.S. Open history to reach double-figures under par when he eagled the par-5 fourth to get to 11-under par.


Moments later, after Glover had played the sixth and seventh holes 3-over par, Barnes had a six-stroke lead. It didn’t last.


Though Barnes led by a stroke at the end of the third round, he bogeyed his first hole in the final round and put his tee shot in deep rough on No. 2 before play was suspended. He bogeyed six of his final 13 holes Sunday.


“I got some nerves going and stuff like that. But that’s golf,” Barnes, 28, said. “If you don’t have a little bit of nerves when you’re in the heat of competition, especially in the last group, you’re not human.”


While Barnes backpedaled, Glover regrouped. His 3-over par front nine could have gutted his chances. Instead, a solid swing off the ninth tee put him a good frame of mind again.


Walking to the 10th tee, Glover told his caddie, “Let’s just put a good nine together and we did.”


Glover’s approach this week has been simple—drive the ball in the fairway (he hit 13 of 14 fairways in the third round) and hole short putts. He plans to keep it that way and he’ll keep track of how the day is unfolding.


“I like to know where I stand,” Glover said when asked if he’ll monitor the leader boards. “Football coaches don’t coach the fourth quarter not knowing what the score is. Some people don’t want to know but I do.”



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