- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 17, 2006

MAMARONECK, N.Y. — Don’t ask me how Kenneth Ferrie wound up leading the U.S. Open yesterday — if only for a few holes. He must have a Ferrie godmother.

As in 1974, when the Open winner here finished 7 over, Winged Foot has turned into Stubbed Toe. I don’t know how they do it, but every year the folks at the USGA pull off the near impossible: They make us feel sorry for millionaires. And there is, indeed, a whole lot of sufferin’ going on at “The Foot.” To hear the players tell it, the fairways aren’t fair, the rough is way too rough and the greens are lumpier than Tim Herron.

Take a sip of some of these whines:

Geoff Ogilvy: “You can play well here and get a few bad breaks and shoot 80 before you know it.”

(Bad breaks like what, Geoff — qualifying?)

Darren Clarke: “I made seven bogeys [in the first two rounds] with a 7-iron in my hand … from the middle of the fairway.

(It’s amazing, when all was said and done, that he wasn’t holding his 7-iron in two hands — after breaking it over his knee.)

Scott Hend: “Even on the birdie putts you don’t really want to have a crack at it [lest you knock it five feet past]. … You don’t even want to watch it roll.”

And these are guys, I’ll just point out, who are in the Top 15 here. Ogilvy is two shots out of the lead at 1 over, Hend is 4 over and Clarke is 5 over — well below the cut line of 9 over.

Here’s the craziest thing of all, though: Tiger Woods misses the cut — the first time that’s happened to him in a major since he turned pro — and long lost David Duval makes it. In fact, Duval plays his way into contention with the lowest round of the tournament so far, a 2-under 68 (matched by Arron Oberholser) that leaves him six strokes back.

For all the angst — and angst, as everyone knows, is what the “A” in USGA stands for — this is shaping up as one of the best Opens in ages.

You’ve got Colin Montgomerie, still without a major title at 42, squarely in the hunt. You’ve got Phil Mickelson, winner of last year’s PGA and this year’s Masters, in solid position to claim the third leg of his “Slam.” You’ve got Steve Stricker, who lost his PGA Tour card, leading at the halfway mark. And you’ve got Duval, once considered to be Tiger’s Main Foil … before his game mysteriously deserted him.

David has quietly been making inroads in recent months — beginning, strangely enough, after a disastrous first 27 holes at the Masters. It was little noted at the time, but on the back nine Friday at Augusta, he shot a 33 that featured four birdies and no bogeys. A T-22 in the Wachovia Championship and a T-25 at Colonial soon followed, his two best efforts since ‘04 and his best back-to-back finishes since — brace yourself — ‘02.

And now Duval has yesterday to build on. Heck, he was 4 under through 14 holes — and tied for seventh — when he tried to drive the green on No. 6, a 321-yard par-4, and missed badly. That misadventure led to a double-bogey that bumped him off the leader board as suddenly as he’d appeared on it.

The wheels might have come off at that point, but they didn’t — another indication his confidence is returning. He closed out his round with three pars, the last the result of a nice bit of scrambling, and the New York crowd cheered him enthusiastically. But then, he’s a familiar figure up here. He’s almost always played in the Westchester tournament (now known as the Barclays Classic) and almost won it in 2000.

“I’ve been saying for I don’t know how long that I’ve been playing well, and nobody wants to listen,” he said, his tone almost one of admonishment. “I’ll say it again: I’m playing very well. I made some putts today a couple of times when I needed tokeep my round going. The little things added up a little bit better today than they have the first six months of the year.”

Duval seems genuinely perturbed his resurrection has taken this long. He felt he hit the ball well enough last week at Westchester to contend; alas, he didn’t even make it to the weekend. The setback had him “scratching my head. My results haven’t been nearly what I thought they should be this year up to now,” he said. “I just look forward to having a really good second half of the year.”

It would be nice — for him and for golf. Any sport would miss a player like Duval, a player capable of winning 13 tournaments, including the British Open, in less than four years. With him, Monty and Stricker all in the picture, this is turning into the Comeback Open.

Can’t beat that.

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