- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2001

America Held Hostage: Day 4 of the 2001 Kemper Open:

As I type this, storm clouds are gathering over Avenel for the umpteenth time, and the players are scurrying to the clubhouse to avoid the impending deluge. It's 6:42 p.m. Sunday, about the time the Kemper winner is usually hoisting a piece of crystal. But there will be no winner tonight, because tournament organizers have just announced that play is being suspended and won't be resumed until 9 a.m. Monday morning.

That's not good news for Frank Lickliter and J.J. Henry, who are tied for the lead at 16-under par, four shots clear of the field. Neither has ever won on the PGA Tour, and now both must wait about 16 hours to learn their fate.

"Yeah, it's a little frustrating," Henry says. "I was definitely feeling [like I was on a roll] out there today. I've just gotta look at it as a great opportunity, and hopefully I can finish it off [Monday]. I was in almost the exact same situation in the second round, which I had to finish on Saturday morning. I played my last five holes in 2 under, so maybe I can do the same [thing again]."

If he does, he'll post a final round 63 and put a lot of pressure on Lickliter down the stretch. One of the quirks of this Kemper is that, because they didn't redo the pairings after the third round (due to the need to play 36 holes Sunday), the two front-runners are five holes apart. Lickliter was on No. 10, squatting to read a birdie putt, when the horn blew to suspend play for the third and final time of the day. So if Henry is in front when he completes the final round, Lickliter will have to birdie one of the tough finishing holes to catch him. And even if Henry is behind by a stroke when he completes his round, Lickliter will have to spend the last hour or so protecting his lead. For a young (OK, 31) golfer looking for his first title, that's an eternity.

It's kind of amazing the Kemper has never spilled over to Monday before. As we all know, May is the monsoon season in Washington, and it's rare that the tournament isn't disrupted by some kind of weather stoppage. But somehow, they've always managed to get in 72 holes by sundown Sunday until now. Maybe if they had been more ambitious on Saturday and gotten the third round under way (instead of just wrapping up the second), all this could have been avoided.

On the other hand, at least we're not going to have a finish like the '87 Colonial. Remember that disaster? They had to play 36 holes on the last day in that one, too with players beginning their rounds on both the No. 1 and No. 10 and the surprise winner, Keith Clearwater, putted out for the championship on the ninth hole. How weird is that?

Fortunately, nobody in the Kemper is going pull a Clearwater and shoot 64-64 in the last two rounds. The rain-softened greens have made Avenel vulnerable, but not that vulnerable.

"It's very sloppy [out there]," Lickliter just told us. "I've had a couple of drives that didn't go anywhere. [The ball] goes two feet when it hits. And you could see it splash. Obviously, the greens are a little softer and that can be dangerous, too. Like on 10, I was worried about the ball coming back in the creek with a little extra spin."

Until that last front moved in at about a quarter to 7, it looked like the final round was going to be a Race Against Darkness. About two hours of daylight remained (I'm being optimistic here), and Lickliter in the last group with Bradley Hughes and Lee Porter had a little more than eight holes to play. Could he possibly have completed his round and kept the Kemper from going into OT? Henry, for one, thinks so. "I think virtually everybody wanted to get the tournament over tonight," he says. "It feels like I played 54 holes today, and I only played 32. But unfortunately, you can't control the weather."

Tournament officials are opening the gates Monday morning and letting everyone in for free. It's the least they can do, if you ask me. (I'd be inclined to divide the $3.1 million purse among the 123,250 diehards who've attended the tournament. They've earned it after getting their clothes soaked three of the past four days.)

I considered sleeping in the Avenel clubhouse Sunday night you know, refusing to leave until we had a winner but practicality got the best of me and I decided to head home. What clinched it, I think, was when a Tournament Type stuck his head in the interview tent and said, "We've gotten word that a tornado might be headed this way. You're all going to have to clear out of here."

Auntie Em! Auntie Em!


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