Cut above average slows play

US Open: Halfway leader's late mistakes over tough finish create biggest third-round field in the tournament's history
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The Independent Online
In to the misty glare of a rising sun, Anthony Rodriguez and Shawn Kelly, both having just made the cut at their first attempt, teed up at the head of the biggest weekend field in the US Open. At 6.54am, the pair collected the smallest gallery, which was just as well as Rodriguez, a mini-tour player from Texas, double-bogeyed the first and Kelly, a California club pro, repeated the feat at the second. Eight-and-a-half hours, and 53 twosomes later, Payne Stewart and Greg Norman set out at the other end of the leaderboard.

It was Stewart's bogey-par- bogey finish on Friday, leaving him at 138, two under par, which enabled 108 players, 20 more than the previous highest mark at Baltusrol two years ago, to survive the half-way cut. That this has been allowed to happen shows the United States Golf Association to be as slow as their national championship.

The rule letting anyone within 10 shots of the lead remain over the weekend, otherwise known as the "keep everyone but Ian Baker-Finch" rule, after the 1991 British Open champion, who finished 25 over par and last for two rounds, was due to be reviewed in August. The Royal & Ancient have already discarded the 10-shot rule after 112 qualified at Birkdale in 1991 and 103 did so at St Andrews last year.

"I think the concentration of talent out here is such that you could conceivably have 140 players some day finishing within 10 shots after 36 holes," said David Fay, the executive director of the USGA, who will have to pay out around $250,000 in extra prize money. Instead, the low 70 and ties will proceed, which this week would have meant anyone at six over or worse missing out.

Happily, this would not have affected any of the nine Europeans who made the cut, a figure that can be put into perspective by the fact that until recently fewer than nine were allowed to play in the US Open. As the quest goes on for the first winner from this side of the Atlantic since Tony Jacklin in 1970, the newly honoured Sam Torrance MBE fittingly led the way in his second US Open.

His level-par 36-hole score was bettered by only four players and he felt the rain on Wednesday had helped his cause. "Normally, in the US Open the greens are rock hard," he said. "We don't hit the ball as high as our American counterparts and when the greens are more receptive, it helps balls hit with a lower flight to stop." But Torrance was expecting to be "scared" by the increasing pace of the greens over the weekend and despite all the five-inch rough and narrow fairways, it is the greens, Ian Woosnam suggests, which are the biggest hindrance to further European success. "We are not used to greens as fast and as severe," the Welshman said.

Woosnam, typically, is unhappy with his driving and putting, though he has not returned to the long putter he used briefly at the English Open earlier this month. But he suggests that long exposure to inferior greens on the European tour promotes the use of the broom-handled putter of which Torrance and Philip Walton are regular practitioners. "On greens like these, you can get a good putting stroke going. On bad greens, your stroke disappears. We have to get better conditions on the greens in Europe. We suffer especially early in the year. If the money is spent, it can be done."

It is on the greens where Colin Montgomerie's exasperation has been greatest and the statistics do not lie. They show the Scot is doing exactly the things he does best, with only one player having hit more than his 24 fairways after two rounds and no one having hit more than his 29 greens in regulation. But he ranked 90th in putts, having taken 64 to Stewart's 54. Amazing, then, that he should be only four shots behind.

Putting, and the wish to putt on consistently good greens, of course, was the reason behind Nick Faldo setting up on the US tour. It seems, however, that the Masters champion is getting confused with the current British Open champion, John Daly. No sooner than Daly takes up with a zero-iron, than Faldo follows suit. They are the only men who can control the 12-degree beast and now Daly is following Faldo's lead.

"You can't attack this golf course," Daly said. "It is a golf where you just have to go out and play 'Nick Faldo' golf. You just have to hit the fairways and hit the greens. No one does it better than Nick Faldo." Apart from Daly, and a few others. The American was one over par, two shots ahead of the Masters champion.

Woosnam started with two birdies yesterday, but the strength of this course is in its finish, as Bob Tway, the 1986 USPGA champion, demonstrated. At five under after 11 holes, he was even threatening the course record. Three dropped strokes in the last four holes soon put paid to that.