Tuesday, May 30, 2000

While Tiger Woods was pounding out his 19th PGA Tour victory yesterday at the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio, all was quiet on professional golf’s Eastern front.

For most of the day at the TPC at Avenel, site of this week’s 33rd Kemper Open, Gary Williams was the most recognizable golfer on the property. The Maryland basketball coach was one of 112 amateurs who paid $1,800 to hack it around the 7,005-yard, par-71 layout with 28 second-tier professionals in a soggy stableford pro-am that kicked off tournament festivities.

The majority of the event’s top draws, including top-ranked Kemper competitor Ernie Els (the world’s eighth-ranked player) and former champion Justin Leonard (1997), were completing the rain-lengthened Memorial. Els and Leonard, perhaps promising Avenel uprisings, finished five shots behind Woods in a tie for second at the Memorial.

But Leonard won’t arrive at Avenel until late this afternoon. And Els won’t show up at the Potomac course until tomorrow. The two-time U.S. Open champion will host a luncheon today at Whiskey Creek Golf Club (Urbana, Md.), his first signature design, before preparing for his assault on Avenel.

All toll, 20 of the world’s top-50 players will descend on the course before Thursday’s opening round. But not one of those elite performers was present yesterday to test the layout, which is in the most pristine condition pros will have seen since the tournament moved from Congressional CC to Avenel in 1987.

“The rain hasn’t adversely effected us at all in our ability to prepare, and maintain the course,” said Avenel general manager Todd Strane. “It’s never been in better shape.”

Neither has John Daly.

On a day otherwise devoid of star power, the new-look Long John wowed the small gallery assembled on the grounds with his slimmed-down physique and familiar prodigious power. Golf’s favorite prodigal son, who alternately has battled and succumbed to alcoholism over the last decade, was almost unrecognizably svelte as he stood on Avenel’s practice tee and pounded balls some 330 yards against the wind with a demo Mizuno driver.

“I’ve lost about 30 pounds, and I plan on dropping about 15 more,” said the 34-year-old Daly, who finished last season weighing around 240 pounds. “It’s not a diet as much as it’s just not eating all the junk I used to eat.”

Unfortunately, Daly hasn’t managed to parlay his weight loss into on-course success. The two-time major champion has missed three straight cuts and recorded just one top-25 finish in 13 starts this season.

“I seem to have one or two stupid holes every time I go out,” Daly said. “I know I missed the cut at the Memorial, but I played 15 good holes on Friday. I made a couple of bogeys on the back nine and then blew up with a double at 18. But there were definitely some positives. I’m hitting my driver awfully well and putting well. I really feel my game’s coming around. I feel good mentally and emotionally, and I’m excited this week because I’ve always loved playing in front of the people here.”

Notes Brent Geiberger and Steve Flesch withdrew from the 156-man field yesterday. They were replaced by alternates Robert Gamez and Dick Mast. The final four field spots will be filled today through an open qualifying at Little Bennett GC (Clarksburg, Md.).

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