- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 2, 2009

A year ago this week, Steve Marino surged to the first-round lead of the AT&T National, and a raucous and large contingent of family and friends ensured the Fairfax native’s fine play earned attention.

Marino didn’t remain atop the leader board, but it was another step in his steady development. And now he’s back at Congressional Country Club, still seeking the same thing as before: his first PGA Tour title.

With plenty of support expected over the next four days in Bethesda, Marino could be a sleeper possibility to collect a championship in his hometown tournament.

The former University of Virginia star sits 28th on the money list this season, bolstered by a second-place finish at Colonial last month. Marino lost to Steve Stricker in a playoff that week, but it still was a significant finish for a player who had finished second just once in his career.

“I was disappointed I didn’t win that tournament, but the thing I take away from that is that I felt great in the playoff,” Marino said. “I felt fine coming down the stretch on the back nine. I felt fine in the playoff. I wasn’t overwhelmed with nerves, and I wasn’t freaking out thinking about winning the tournament. I felt comfortable with the fact I was going to win the tournament.”

Marino has three top-10 finishes this season and made nine straight cuts before struggling last week at the Travelers Championship. Still, he’s among the best bets of players who have yet to win on tour to contend this week.

“It’d be real nice to win a tournament like this at this kind of golf course, my hometown, Tiger’s tournament,” Marino said. “It would be really awesome.”

Drug-testing redux

Much of the buzz surrounding last year’s AT&T National was the debut of the PGA Tour’s drug-testing policy, a step that brought doping measures in line with other professional sports but was met with far more indifference than anything else from players.

And 12 months later? PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has not seen many issues with or serious violations of the policy.

“There have been no suspensions because of doping,” Finchem said. “And again, I’ll just say it’s not going to surprise me if we have some issue, but I think what’s clear is we do not have a doping problem. Having an issue or two going forward does not mean we’re having a problem. It could mean a lot of things. But knock on wood, we’re very pleased at this point.”

Finchem would not say whether there were any positive tests for any drugs but reiterated there were no violations of the performance-enhancing policy.

In the end, the dearth of doping offenses supports what players asserted a year ago.

“I didn’t think we had an issue when we started,” Jim Furyk said. “If someone had an issue and you know you’re going to get tested, you would quit at that point anyway. I’m not surprised at all.”

Furyk is impressed

Furyk is both one of the highest-ranked players (ninth in the world) entered in this week’s AT&T National and also one of the handful of players entered this week who also played the last four events held at Congressional (1997 U.S. Open, 2005 Booz Allen Classic, 2007 and 2008 AT&T).

As such, few in the 120-man field have quite the same perspective on the course.

“It’s probably in the best shape I’ve seen it of all the years we’ve played here,” Furyk said. “It’s in very good condition. It’s a little soft from the rain we got [Tuesday]. … A couple days of sun, dry it out, and it’ll be a very difficult test.”

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