- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — You probably could have shot a decent score in the U.S. Open yesterday if you'd remembered to bring a snorkel. Too bad Gil(l) Morgan isn't playing here. My money would be on him. Unless, of course, Magellan were in the field.

As the soggy contestants stumbled off the course after Round 2, you half-expected to hear one of them mumbling incoherently about Dry Land. This wasn't a golf tournament, it was "Water World Comes to Bethpage Black."

"Obviously, when you see the rain, you kind of get excited because you think maybe the fairways will get softer and the greens will get softer and there'll be better scoring conditions," said Billy Mayfair. "But that's not the case out there. I think with the wind blowing in their face [on most of the first 10 holes], the course is playing really almost too long for 'em. It's real hard scoring conditions out there just because it's always raining and you just never feel settled out there."

Golfers are easily unsettled, as we all know. (In fact, the children's story, "The Princess and the Pea" is thought to be loosely based on a touring pro.) But yesterday the players had every right to feel put-upon. The conditions were fit for neither man nor marlin.

If you had a morning tee time, like Tiger Woods did, you were "lucky" it only poured for about half your round. (The rest of the time it just drizzled or misted.) But if you played in the afternoon, you needed hip-waders. Seriously, instead of consulting the yardage book before their approach shots, the players should have used sonar.

By nightfall, Woods was leading at 5 under after a near-miraculous 68, and the rest of the field was 20,000 leagues under the sea. Sergio Garcia (74), Phil Mickelson (73), Jeff Maggert (73), Stewart Cink (82), K.J. Choi (73), Mayfair (74) they'd need a Coast Guard cutter to catch Tiger now. The only other guy in the red numbers is Ireland's Padraig Harrington, whose equally impressive 68 put him at 2 under.

Woods' abilities as a golfer have always been evident, but who had any idea he was such a good mudder? A 68 in yesterday's deluge was like a 58 especially with almost everybody else taking on water. Tiger had to scramble like Donovan McNabb at times; he missed a bunch of fairways and greens on the back side. But just about every time he needed a putt, he made it.

"Growing up in Southern California, obviously we didn't get a whole lot of this [weather]," he said. "The only bad years were probably El Nino years, or when the Santa Anna winds came in from the desert. But when we did get bad weather, I used to love to go out and play in it. The hardest part was convincing my mother I could go out there without catching a cold."

Speaking of El Nino that is, Garcia he wasn't too thrilled about having to dodge raindrops all day. "Playing in bad weather on a hard course isn't something I'd recommend to anybody," he said. "When I got to the third tee, it was underwater. I thought, 'Do we have to be swimming here to stop play or something?' It got to the point where it was a little extreme.

"They probably should have taken a 40- or 45-minute break [and gone to work with the squeegees]. If Tiger Woods had been out there, I think [they probably would have]."

Call it the home country advantage.

It's hard to imagine a scenario in which Woods would blow this Open. Choi, the former weightlifter, might be able to bench press him 20 times, but can he outplay him by eight strokes over the next two days? Doubtful. Mayfair actually beat Tiger in a playoff once upon a time (Nissan Open, 1998), the only such defeat Woods has suffered. Billy, however, is farther behind than K.J.

Mickelson? Hasn't even broken par yet.

Davis Love? See above.

Which brings us to Harrington. Maybe the underrated Dubliner is ready for his big breakthrough. He did tie for fifth a couple of months ago at the Masters. (He also played in Woods' company at the Open last year something he'll have to do today which could help him. Going head-to-head with Tiger can be daunting.)

Garcia made it sound like it was a done deal. "The course is in perfect shape for [Woods] to win right now [after being softened and lengthened by the rains]," he said. "He's just got to bang it out there, hit it on the green, and you're going to have some birdie chances if the weather is half-decent."

It's Tiger's Open to lose, all right. Not only has he brought his 'A' game, he seems to have brought his water wings, too.

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