- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bart Bryant didn’t play the week before the U.S. Open, instead choosing to rest before facing golf’s sternest tests while many of the sport’s best tuned up at Westchester.

He’ll go against an even greater trend this week, playing at the Booz Allen Classic just days after starting the final round at Winged Foot five shots off the lead even as most of the sport’s recognizable names take the week off.

“It is a little tough since that Open takes a lot out of you,” said Bryant, who is ranked 42nd. “It’s such a mental strain, but when Thursday gets here, I’ll be rested and ready to go.”

The 43-year-old will be one of the top players in this week’s field at the TPC at Avenel in Potomac. Only four others — Padraig Harrington (No. 23), Kenny Perry (No. 25), Nick O’Hern (No. 27) and Robert Allenby (No. 41) — are ranked higher than the Texan, who has enjoyed a late-career surge.

Bryant turned pro in 1986 and constantly battled both to keep his tour card (he made it through qualifying school six times) and to overcome injuries. His tie for ninth at the 2002 Booz Allen was his first top-10 in 11 years, and his best result in his six trips to Avenel.

After elbow surgery in 2003 cut short his season, he played the following year with a medical extension. Early in 2004, he and coach Brian Mogg collaborated on a serious analysis of his game.

“He finally convinced me I was a good enough player to be on the PGA Tour, and not only should I be out here, I should be competing to win,” Bryant said. “I think we both figured out in the past when I had played well, I had almost sabotaged myself and I kind of fell apart from the inside out. I didn’t risk it enough and kind of feared putting my neck on the line.”

He got a chance to do so that September in the Texas Open, an event staged opposite the Ryder Cup. He took a four-shot lead into the final round and shot 67 to close out his first career victory.

Invigorated by the victory, Bryant won twice more last season — at the Memorial and the season-ending Tour Championship, the latter title which gave him a three-year exemption.

“There’s definitely a sense of having the monkey off your back or a new sense of confidence or a sense of knowing that I had to come through under pressure and I did,” Bryant said. “Presented with that situation again, I can be successful because I’ve been successful before.”

Bryant doesn’t have a top-10 since finishing ninth at the limited field Mercedes Championship to open the season, but has made three straight cuts — including his first at the U.S. Open. He’s playing all four majors for the first time this year, and while he’s 88th on the money list, Bryant might not be far from contending for another victory this week.

“I did have some knee surgery [in November], and my swing hasn’t felt quite as good as last year, my putting, you add all those things together and I just haven’t performed quite as well,” Bryant said. “Having said that, it’s not like I’m doing anything terrible. I’ve made a little over a half million dollars, so I don’t want to start whining and complaining that I’m having a bad year.”

No second-guessing

There has been no shortage of criticism directed at Phil Mickelson since his 72nd-hole meltdown Sunday at the U.S. Open.

Padraig Harrington, though, isn’t piling on.

The Irishman, who bogeyed the last three holes at Winged Foot and finished two shots behind champion Geoff Ogilvy, said Mickelson made the right decision for himself when he opted to use a driver on the final hole rather than a 4-wood with a one-shot lead. Mickelson drove it far left and eventually settled for a double bogey.

“I don’t think he carried the 3-wood. I would have hit 3-wood, but that would have been the right call for me,” Harrington said. “Looking back, I think he made the right choice in terms of his club selection off the tee. I don’t know what the second shot was like. He did win the last two majors before that. I wouldn’t be judging him.”

Chip-ins

Larry Mize, D.A. Points and Bo Van Pelt withdrew, while alternates Scott Gump, Len Mattiace and Blaine McAllister were added to the field. … Donnie Hammond, Justin Peters, Brandon Knaub and Brent Delahoussaye earned spots in the field during Monday’s qualifying.


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