- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 18, 2009

TURNBERRY, Scotland - Fairfax native Steve Marino had never played a single round of links golf before arriving at Turnberry on Monday.

By the time the wind off the Firth of Clyde finished blowing Tiger Woods and the 156-man field back to bogeyville on Friday, Marino found himself tied atop the midpoint leader board at the 138th British Open with ageless wonder Tom Watson.

“I’m just having a blast,” said the 29-year-old former standout at Virginia after following his opening 67 with a second-round 68 to post 5-under (135) on the 7,204-yard, par-70 Ayrshire Links. “Obviously it’s an advantage to have experience. But it can also be an advantage not to have [negative] experience. I haven’t really experienced any nightmares over here yet, knock wood.”

Woods, meanwhile, made two double bogeys on the back side, finished with a 4-over 74 and missed the cut in a major for just the second time in his professional career.

Woods rallied toward the end of his round, making birdies on two of the final three holes. But it was too late: He finished one stroke shy of the cut line.

While Tiger struggled, five-time Open champion Watson was authoring another remarkable round at Turnberry.

The 59-year-old got off to a stumbling start, bogeying five of six holes in a stretch on the front. But he played the final 10 holes at 4 under for an even-par 70 that put him atop the leader board with Marino.

The most challenging part of Marino’s Open experience thus far was simply getting to Scotland and securing a place in the field. Marino was competing in the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill., last week when Shingo Katayama and Phil Mickelson pulled out of the British Open, bumping up Marino to second alternate.

“I didn’t have any warm clothes [with me]. I didn’t have my passport,” said Marino, who has three top-10 finishes in 20 starts on the PGA Tour this season. “I had to fly my dad [from Fairfax] to my house in Florida, so he could get my passport and FedEx it to me at the John Deere.”

Marino flew to Scotland on Monday on the players’ plane from John Deere and got his first taste of links golf during Tuesday and Wednesday practice rounds. While Thursday’s round was an exhibition in solid ball-striking, Friday’s 68 was pure Houdini.

“I holed a shot from 116 yards for birdie, made a bunker shot for birdie, and then there were points in the round where I felt like I was one-putting every hole,” said Marino, who hit only six greens on Friday but still enjoyed a red-number result thanks to two hole-outs and a near-miraculous performance on Turnberry’s greens (22 putts). “I really don’t think I could have shot one stroke less, to be honest with you.”

Marino has yet to collect his first PGA Tour victory. But he’s improved in each of his first three seasons after finally earning his PGA Tour card in 2007. And he nearly posted his breakthrough earlier this season at Colonial, losing in a playoff to Steve Stricker.

“I’ve been playing well for a while now, so I had some confidence in my game,” said Marino, who stands 23rd on the current FedEx Cup points list. “I’d like to think that a win could be right around the corner.”

It boggles the mind to think such a premiere could come with a Claret Jug.

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