Golf: Olympic sets the standard

FOR SIX holes, Payne Stewart was six under par. For the other 30, he was three over. The most amazing thing about Stewart's consecutive run of birdies was that it was interrupted by a night's sleep. But while the last three holes of his first round and the first three of his second were touched with brilliance, the rest were more representative of the struggles of the rest of the field in the first two rounds of the 98th US Open here at the Olympic club.

Stewart maintained his lead after 36 holes but by the end of Friday's play it was not nearly as impressive as it was when he had been standing at seven under on the fourth tee. Then five shots in front, the 1991 champion ended the day at three under par, just one shot ahead of Jeff Maggert and Bob Tway.

Only three other players were under par, a reduction of three from the first round. At one under were an eclectic trio of an amateur star, Matt Kuchar, a pro who would dream of being called a journeyman, Lee Porter, and a former US Open champion, Lee Janzen, who mastered Baltusrol in 1992.

Stewart let three shots slip away on the back nine, including two at the last two holes. At the 17th he found himself in some of the longest rough on the course while at the last he was left with a six-foot putt for a birdie. The problem, though, was that the hole was cut on the side of a hill and the afternoon sun had dried out the greens.

The putt was always going to curve from right to left, but it curled right in front of the cup and then took off down the hill to finish 20 feet away. Stewart missed the one back and in doing so ensured the cut would extend as far back as seven over par.

Others had cause to curse the greens as well. Tom Lehman, Mark O'Meara and Tiger Woods, for the second successive day, all four-putted. "With that pin, that green is bordering on the ridiculous," Stewart said. "It was unfair. I thought it would finish three feet below the hole, but not 20."

Ironically, Stewart has been working hard at his putting in order to gain his first win since 1995. "I have not been able to put four good putting rounds together but I have had two good putting days," said the 41-year-old, who also won the 1989 US PGA Championship.

His decline left others further down the leaderboard still in with a chance over the weekend. Sweden's Jesper Parnevik remained Europe's leading contender despite a 74 and at three over par he was one shot ahead of Colin Montgomerie, who again suffered a bad Friday at the US Open.

Last year it was a 76, after an opening 65, while this time a 74 left the Scot seven behind Stewart. "It was just bad day," he said. "I didn't drive the ball well and you have to put it on the fairway here. I've no excuses.

"No one runs away with the US Open and I know with two 66s I will be right there. There will be no change of strategy, I just need to find the fairways."

On his miserable day a year ago, Montgomerie came in for some abuse from the Congressional gallery and at Olympic he was also heckled. Though he made no comment about the cheers that greeted some missed putts, such behaviour is presumably not unconnected to some of the articles about him on the local papers which have referred to Europe's No 1 as the "basket case of golf" and as "Snidey Whiplash", a cartoon character.

Montgomerie's playing partner, David Duval, scored a 68, one outside Porter's best of the day, to become the leading player in the world top- 10 at three under. Only Davis Love, who is struggling with a back problem, missed the cut, but given that many of the leading players in the game were in good form coming into the event, the severity of the course's set-up must hold some clue to the lack of a big name on the leaderboard.

The Irish pair of Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke both shot very creditable rounds of 72 to be five and six over respectively and Lee Westwood was also six over after a 74. But after four bogeys in a row from the second, the Englishman battled away bravely. From the sixth he parred to the ninth, where he bogeyed again but then the 25-year-old, in his second US Open, parred the entire back nine.

"I am not playing badly," he said. "Any course set up like that is going to be difficult. I have had some decent chances for birdies but not made any putts over the first two days. Once you get over par it is very difficult to get it back but if I can get back to level par, I still have a chance."

Quietly impressive, if you can be by making history as the first man to ride a buggy while competing in the US Open, Casey Martin added a 71 to be five over, but only after bogeying the last two holes. "I have proved something to myself because I know I am not playing as well as I am capable of and yet I have made the cut in the US Open," the 26-year-old Nike Tour player said.

Alas Ken Peyre-Ferry, making his debut in the event at 49, did not, but the consolation was the fact that he could return to New Jersey on the overnight coast- to-coast flight and see his son, who caddied for him for the first two rounds but was going back anyway, get married yesterday afternoon.

US Open leaderboard

(US unless stated)

137

P Stewart 66 71

138

J Maggert 69 69

B Tway 68 70

139

*M Kuchar 70 69

L Porter 72 67

L Janzen 73 66

140

M Carnevale 67 73

141

J Durant 68 73

N Price (Zim) 73 68

B Faxon 73 68

S Cink 73 68

142

E Romero (Arg) 72 70

C Dimarco 71 71

143

S Simpson 72 71

T Lehman 68 75

O Browne 73 70

D Duval 75 68

F Nobilo (Nzl) 76 67

J Parnevik (Swe) 69 74

144

P Mickelson 71 73

S Stricker 73 71

D A Weibring 72 72

C Montgomerie (GB) 70 74

F Lickliter 73 71

J Daly 69 75

145

E Els (SA) 75 70

M Reid 76 69

J Huston 73 72

V Singh (Fij) 73 72

S McCarron 72 73

T Kite 70 75

J M Olazabal (Spa) 68 77

C Martin 74 71

J Acosta 73 72

C Perry 74 71

G Day 73 72

P Harrington (Irl) 73 72

B Zabriski 74 71

146

J Leonard 71 75

D Clarke (GB) 74 72

J Sindelar 71 75

P-U Johansson (Swe) 71 75

M Brooks 75 71

J Sluman 72 74

L Westwood (GB) 72 74

T Woods 74 72

M O'Meara 70 76

S Verplank 74 72

T Sipula 75 71

147

J Nicklaus 73 74

T Bjorn (Den) 72 75

J Haas 76 71

T Herron 75 72

J Johnson 74 73

S Pate 72 75

J Furyk 74 73

S Appleby (Aus) 73 74

P Azinger 75 72

F Couples 72 75

L Roberts 71 76

R Walcher 77 70

Missed cut

(selected scores)

148

C Pavin 76 72, B Andrade 74 74, H Irwin 80 68, T Watson 73 75, J Cook 75 73, R Goosen (SA) 74 74, S Jones 72 77, N Faldo (GB) 77 72, S Hoch 74 75.

150

D Kirkpatrick (GB) 78 72 S Elkington (Aus) 77 73, M Calcavecchia 74 76.

151

G Clough (GB) 78 73, I Woosnam (GB) 72 79, F Zoeller 75 76.

153

B Langer (Ger) 75 78, D Love 78 75.

154

I Garrido (Sp) 76 78, R Karlsson (Swe) 78 76, C Rocca (It) 71 83.

155

C Strange 77 78

160

B Crenshaw 82 78

* denotes amateur

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