- The Washington Times - Monday, June 22, 2009


The diabolical duo of the dark comedy otherwise known as the 109th U.S. Open is Ricky Barnes (7 under) and Lucas Glover (7 under).

Barring a monumental meltdown or epic charge, the USGA is likely to award the national championship to a member of the Open’s inauspicious final twosome Monday afternoon.

A U.S. Open finale hasn’t featured such a pair of major strangers in recent history.

Blame it on Tiger Woods’ balky putter. Blame it on Phil Mickelson’s relative rust. Blame it on the weather, which has dumped so much rain on Bethpage Black that a Hartford Open broke out.

“Guys are just tearing the place apart,” said Woods (even par), who is seven holes into his final round after missing a season’s worth of midrange putts during a third-round 68. “It’s more like what we face week in and week out, certainly not at a U.S. Open.”

The result is a final-round showdown between the oddest couple to define a major leader board since Shaun Micheel took down Chad Campbell at the 2003 PGA Championship.

The man on the 54-hole pole was Barnes, who certainly seemed destined for greatness when he won the 2002 U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills. Unfortunately, the strapping youngster with a swing like a slap shot and a streaky short game spent the next six years spraying it around on the Nationwide Tour. He finally earned his tour card by finishing exactly 25th on the junior circuit last season.

As a 28-year-old PGA Tour rookie this season, Barnes arrived at Bethpage boasting six made cuts in 12 starts without a single top-45 finish. In fact, in 134 professional starts on the Nationwide and PGA tours, Barnes has managed to collect exactly zero professional victories. That’s the same number as the 50,000 overserved yahoos who have turned the 109th Open into an SEC football game for four soggy days. But if Barnes can forget where he is and lug around his robust world ranking (519) for one more round, he’ll become the first guy to chalk up his maiden pro victory at a U.S. Open since Jerry Pate in 1976.

“I’ll take a lead after 54 holes in any event, let alone the U.S. Open,” said Barnes, who rocketed to 11 under with an eagle at the fourth hole of his third round, then handed back four strokes before play was suspended at dusk Sunday. “I was happy with the way I handled the nerves today. … Hey, I shot even par [in the third round] with the lead. If I go out and do the same thing [Monday], somebody is really going to have to go low from behind to catch me.”

The 29-year-old Glover doesn’t need to go low, but he does need to reverse his disconcerting habit of fading under fire. One of the game’s best drivers, Glover always seems to catch a case of crookeds on Sundays. His final-round scoring average of 71.18 ranks 87th on the PGA Tour this season and goes a long way toward explaining why he hasn’t backed up his breakout victory at the 2005 Funai Classic at Walt Disney World.

There is storyline hope five strokes beneath the two duds at the top of the board in the form of David Duval and Phil Mickelson.

Duval, the formal world No. 1 who went into semiretirement after winning the 2001 British Open, gutted out a second consecutive 70 to keep him in the mix to consummate the greatest career comeback since Ben Hogan returned from a near-fatal car crash to win the 1950 U.S. Open.

The 37-year-old Duval certainly has the stronger resume than either Barnes or Glover… but it was built nearly a decade ago. There’s no denying his massive edge in major experience, but Duval hasn’t posted a top-10 finish in any event - much less a major - since 2002.

“I’d like to think I enjoyed it immensely eight or 10 years ago, when I was on top of the world,” said Duval, who has swapped existential angst for a marriage and a family of five in the interim. “With a life that’s a little more complete, I probably honestly enjoy it more now. I have no less desire at this point then I did back then. However, I don’t simply feel like I do it for myself anymore.”

That was Mickelson’s theme from the start of this five-day slog as he came to Bethpage hoping to win one for Amy. If there’s one man who still can rescue the 109th Open from anonymity, it’s Lefty. He’s buried a handful of strokes behind Barnes, but he proved with six third-round birdies that he has the firepower to go low on the Black Course.

“I’m just one good round away,” said Mickelson (2 under), who will step away from golf indefinitely after the Open to join his wife in her battle with breast cancer. “It can be done. No doubt.”

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