- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2000

The folks at Kemper Insurance scrapped their longtime cavalry ad motif before this year's 33rd Kemper Open. Thankfully, 1997 champion Justin Leonard never got the memo.
Charging in the afternoon to rescue a leader board that looked like a refugee from the Buy.com Tour, Leonard carded an opening-round 65 at TPC at Avenel to pull within one stroke of rank-and-file first-round leaders Jay Williamson and Steve Lowery.
Perhaps most impressively, Leonard could easily be a co-leader if not for an exemplary display of sportsmanship and integrity. After reaching the par-5, 13th green in two, Leonard lagged his eagle putt within two feet and then surprisingly backed off after addressing the point-blank birdie tap. Apparently, Leonard's ball had wiggled back onto the blade of his putter at address. Nobody saw the infraction, and the Golf Channel's cameras never picked it up. But Leonard immediately informed playing partners Kirk Triplett and Michael Bradley and penalized himself one stroke before holing the short putt for a par.
"It has happened to me before, and it will happen to me again," said the 27-year-old Texan, without a trace of bitterness. "I had one at the Canadian Open last year where, when I finished, one of the rules officials came in and said, 'We couldn't see it. We watched the tape over and over, and didn't see a thing.' I said, 'Look, I'm not trying to cheat, because I'm adding a shot to my score.' I don't know if anybody could see it or not, but it doesn't make any difference."
Fate rewarded Leonard's honesty three holes later with a 40-foot, chip-in birdie. The 1997 British Open champion, who has not won since the 1998 Players Championship, then cleaned up his bogey-free, 6-under round with a pair of closing pars.
"I'm just glad that I feel myself coming out of [the slump]," said Leonard, who hadn't recorded a top-10 finish this season before last week's tie for second at the Memorial. "I played pretty well last week and then had a nice solid, smart round today."
Among the six players clustered around Leonard at 5-under or better, only Tim Herron (5-under) is recognizable to the average golf fan, though some might remember Williamson for his gory Kemper history. The 33-year-old journeyman, who carded a 29 on the back nine yesterday en route to his 64, led the 1996 event through three rounds before a gruesome Sunday 79 shattered his bid for Kemper crystal. Williamson hasn't seriously contended since, but he's among understanding company in that regard.
Of the seven players at 5-under or better Williamson, Lowery, Leonard, Greg Chalmers (6-under), Brett Quigley (6-under), Craig Barlow (6-under) and Herron, only Leonard and Herron have won a PGA Tour event within the last five years.
Herron, the three-time Tour champion better known as "Lumpy," admitted that such an undecorated leader board gives him a slight confidence boost.
"Obviously, it's a little bit of a psychological advantage having won out here before," said Herron. "But those guys wouldn't be out here or up on that board if they couldn't play."
Seventy members of the 156-man field managed to equal par or better on the soft, windless 7,005-yard, par-71 layout, making Thursday one of the most prolific scoring days in recent tournament history.
Near-perfect conditions didn't help top tournament draw Ernie Els, however. The two-time U.S. Open champion and ninth-ranked player in the world struggled to an opening 72 because of to a double bogey at No. 16 and will need a solid effort today to avoid the weekend ax.
But aside from Els, most of the Kemper's upper-echelon players are still poised to forge into the fray. Billy Andrade, the 1991 champion who holds the tournament scoring record (21-under), hit all 18 greens while carding a 67. Disabled golfer Casey Martin duplicated Andrade's approach play brilliance, posting a 68 and evidently putting his potentially pending Supreme Court battle with the PGA Tour out of mind.
Two-time Kemper champion Bill Glasson, the only man to win the event at both Congressional Country Club (1985) and Avenel (1992), matched Martin's score. And 1995 Kemper champion and two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen also finished at 3-under.
"It's almost better not to shoot a really low score the first day, because it's hard to follow up after that," said Janzen, who spent his childhood in nearby Westminster, Md. "It's tough to lead wire-to-wire, so I like my position."
With that thought in mind, nobody is better positioned than Leonard. Considering his preferred early-morning tee time today, the scanty records of those around him and his history as a former Kemper champion, Leonard certainly looks like the early favorite.
"[Having won here] does make it fun absolutely," said Leonard, who beat the best field Avenel has ever attracted in 1997. "It makes Tuesday and Wednesday more enjoyable, because that's when I'm able to re-live some of the experiences… . But once today starts, you know, '97 was three years ago and it stays there. Hopefully this week I can make a few more memories."

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