Smiles keep coming for cool Kuchar

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US OPENS are not meant to be fun but Matt Kuchar, who smiled his way into the golfing consciousness at the Masters, is at it again regardless. The reigning US Amateur champion, 20 tomorrow, could not be enjoying himself more at the 98th US Open.

After two tours of the formidable Olympic course, which with a cool breeze blowing through the Bay Area was playing even harder than on Thursday when only nine players broke the severe par of 70, Kuchar was one under. His second round 69 left him one behind the early clubhouse leaders, Jeff Maggert and Bob Tway.

At the midway stage, Kuchar, who last week was undergoing his year-end exams in Atlanta, had outscored his illustrious playing partners with room to spare. He dusted the defending champion, Ernie Els, who holed his second shot at the 10th for an eagle-two during a 70, by six strokes and the Open champion, Justin Leonard, who dropped four shots on the back nine, by seven.

"I am having a great time," Kuchar said. "I am both surprised and excited. It's fun having that twinge in your stomach when you are in contention. I have made my major goal, to be out here on the weekend and especially on my birthday."

More than that, Kuchar, were he to turn to professional, could be in line to pick up the first prize of $535,000. He has already had to turn down a cheque for just under $40,000 when he finished 21st at the Masters. "I don't know if the money will persuade will to turn pro or not," Kuchar said.

"I am really enjoying school and I doubt myself whether I will turn professional before school ends but I haven't thought about it and I haven't talked about it with my dad."

A degree in business management could be an asset for a golfer likely to earn rich rewards as a professional but Tiger Woods, on the leaderboard at the US Open at Oakland Hills two years ago while still an amateur, quit college two years early.

A string of pars was followed by birdies at the seventh and eighth, although Kuchar dropped a shot to be out in 34. But at the 12th he holed from 20 feet for another birdie before he tangled with both sand and rough at the 14th. That cost him a double bogey, but he responded immediately by chipping in for another birdie at the short 15th.

"It looked like the wheels were coming off, but that chip-in gave me some momentum back," he said. "This is more of a grind than at Augusta. You have to be precise with your second shots at Augusta but here you have to be precise with every shot."

Nick Faldo missed the cut for the fourth time in six majors after his opening 77 and a 72 yesterday left him at nine over par. Faldo was nearly late on the tee at the first after a prolonged session with David Leadbetter on the putting green but a birdie at the first did not set the tone for the day. A double bogey at the third did.

"Lousy putting, that's all you need to know," Faldo said. Whether there will be an improvement by the Irish Open in two weeks' time seems debatable since it has been his major Achilles' heal since his last win 15 months ago.

"My game is getting better," he said, "but my scoring isn't. I'm so close it's ridiculous. My only weakness is my putting." Typical of his two days was the short eighth, where his tee shot hit the top of the flag but he missed the birdie putt from four feet.

Scoring was not easy and Europe's leading contender after the first round, Jose Maria Olazabal, crashed from two under to five over with a 77. But the overnight leader, Payne Stewart, the '91 champion, continued to defy the course when he birdied the first three holes, which taking into account his finish on Thursday made six birdies in six holes.

The best finish, though, came with Lee Porter's 31 home with an eagle- two at the last when he holed a pitching wedge from 112 yards. That put the 32 year old, who was the 1991 Venezuelan Open but has missed eight cuts in 15 events on the US tour this season, to one under. "I was just glad I didn't have to putt at the last," he said.

US OPEN (Olympic Club, San Francisco) Early second round scores (US unless stated): 138 J Maggert; 139 M Kuchar, L Porter; 140 M Carnevale; 141 J Durant, N Price (Zim), B Faxon; 142 E Romero (Arg); 143 S Simpson, T Lehman; 144 P Mickelson, S Stricker; 145 E Els (SA), M Reid, J Huston, V Singh (Fij), S McCarron, T Kite; 146 J Leonard, D Clarke (GB), J Sindelar; 147 J Nicklaus, T Bjorn (Den), J Haas; 148 D Gilchrist, C Pavin, B Andrade, P Simson; 149 O Uresti, D Martin, S Jones, N Faldo (GB); 150 D Kirkpatrick (GB), T Dodds (Nam); 151 G Clough (GB), D Pooley; 152 D Mast, G Marsh (Aus); 153 B Chamblee, B Langer (Ger), K Sutherland; 154 J Allen, I Garrido (Sp); 158 J Kribel; 160 B Crenshaw; 162 A Morin; 163 J McMillian.


66 P Stewart; 67 M Carnevale; 68 J Durant, T Lehman, JM Olazabal (Sp), B Tway; 69 J Daly, J Parnevik (Swe), J Maggert; 70 A Magee, C Montgomerie (GB), M O'Meara, *M Kuchar, T Kite, D Ogrin; 71 C Dimarco, C Rocca (It), L Roberts, J Leonard, P Mickelson, J Sindelar, P-U Johansson (Swe), B Geiberger; 72 S Pate, P Lee, J Sluman, F Couples, L Westwood (GB), I Woosnam (GB), S Simpson, S Jones, S McCarron, T Bjorn (Den), L Porter, E Romero (Arg), DA Weibring; 73 O Browne, G Day, S Appleby (Aus), F Lickliter, T Watson, P Harrington (Irl), K Triplett, L Janzen, S Cink, R Gehr, N Price (Zim), J Huston, V Singh (Fij), J Nicklaus, B Faxon, S Stricker, C Chernock, E Fryatt (GB), J Acosta; 74 W Wood, C Perry, S Hoch, J Furyk, T Woods, S Verplank, M Calcavecchia, T Oh, R Goosen (SA), B Zabriski, D Gilchrist, D Martin, D Pooley, D Clarke (GB), T Dodds (Nam), B Andrade, M Brisky, T Straub, J Johnson, C Martin, M Wilson; 75 P Parker, M Brooks, C Rose, D Duval, J Cook, P Azinger, T Sipula, F Zoeller, B Fabel, R Deruntz, E Els (SA), B Langer (Ger), G Marsh (Aus), T Herron, B Baird; 76 M Lonardi (Arg), J Green, P Stankowski, F Nobilo (NZ), P Moss, C Tidland, K Wentworth, M Small, B Chamblee, D Mast, J Allen, M Reid, C Pavin, I Garrido (Sp), *P Simson, J Haas, G March, G Fieger, *V Taylor; 77 G Waite (NZ), J Gore, G Boros, C Strange, G Hallberg, P Tataurangi (NZ), J Thorsen, R Walcher, C Kaufman, N Faldo (GB), K Sutherland, S Elkington (Aus), J Estes, S Bertsch; 78 D Hart, M Ozaki (Jap), D Love, C Beck, B Wetterich, O Uresti, G Clough (GB), D Kirkpatrick (GB), R Karlsson (Swe), *D Eger; 79 H Twitty, W Weston, T Sutter; 80 R Todd (Can), S Randolph, H Irwin, G Larson, A Morin, K Peyreferry; 81 P Jordan, B Crenshaw, M Burke; 82 *R Palmer, R Rangel, J McMillian; 83 *J Kribel, G Willis; 84 J Johnston, T Anderson; 85 A Stills; 86 R Ames; Retired T Tolles, D Hart

*denotes amateur player, US unless stated