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Lehman’s Chances Not Open-Ended

For those who insist there’s nothing wrong with the U.S. Open that can’t be fixed with a lawn mower and a couple of chain saws, it is time to commiserate with hard-luck Tom Lehman.

He is bound to be over with what happened Sunday by now, isn’t he?

At 10:30 a.m., when the fourth round started, Lehman’s name was mentioned in the same sentence as Bobby Jones in U.S. Open history. By nightfall, he was in the same

sentence as Jacques Cousteau on a deep-sea dive.

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Lehman became the first man to hold the 54-hole lead in three consecutive U.S. Opens since the legendary Jones in 1928-30.

But whereas Jones won two of those, Lehman is still looking for his first. The way it’s going, you have to wonder whether it’s ever going to happen for him or whether he’s going to end up like Sam Snead, for whom the Open door remained closed.

Snead virtually perfected the art of finishing second in the Open. He did it in 1937, 1947, 1949 and 1953. And although he won 81 tournaments, including seven majors, he never won the U.S. Open.

At 38, Lehman isn’t exactly out of chances, but you have to wonder about the residual effects created by being right there three years in a row and not closing it out. Realistically, how many chances does a player get, even one as talented and doggedly determined as Lehman?

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The fact is, Lehman lost in very unlikely fashion--he bogeyed the 16th and 17th holes from the middle of the fairway.

His seven-iron on No. 16 came up short and in the rough. Lehman didn’t get up and down and his bogey dropped him out of the lead.

At No. 17, Lehman had nearly identical yardage to the pin, about 189 yards. With his seven-iron, he caught it a little heavy and the ball turned too much, glanced off the bank and into the water. He wound up with another bogey and third place.

Plenty of players have lost U.S. Opens--most of them, in fact. But for Lehman, it was extremely hurtful because he was again in position to win and lost instead, again.

Bogeying the 70th and 71st holes from the middle of the fairway is not something from which Lehman can take a lot of positives.

“Losing three years in a row, this is probably the toughest one,” he said.

“I’m just very, very--I guess you would say bitterly-- disappointed that I didn’t pull it off.”

MONTY THE VICTIM

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Colin Montgomerie had plenty of excuses--from rain delays (before he even teed off) to fans cheering missed putts, to fans he said drank too much, to closing holes too close together--so Tom Boswell of the Washington Post offered the Open runner-up some free advice: Forgive your own failings and stop blaming “them.”

Wrote Boswell, “Before he gets home to Troon, Montgomerie might look up the records of Arnold Palmer, who was runner-up in nine majors, or Tom Watson, who ‘failed’ by finishing second in a major seven times. Monty needs to learn the lesson that Tiger [Woods] may have grasped already: Golf’s majors will punch you often enough all by themselves. Don’t beat yourself up to boot.”

IT’S ERNIE TIME

South African Ernie Els, who prevailed at Congressional, is the first foreign player since Alex Smith to win the U.S. Open twice. Smith, a Scot, won in 1906 and 1910.

Eight months past his 27th birthday, Els also is the youngest since Jack Nicklaus in 1967 to have won two U.S. Open titles.

RATINGS GAME

If it was a good weekend for Els, it was also a very good one for NBC, even if Woods wasn’t in contention.

The network averaged a 6.1 rating for Saturday and Sunday at the Open, up 30% over last year and the highest weekend rating in 10 years.

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Saturday’s rating was 5.4, up 32% over 1996 (4.1), and the highest Saturday rating in 10 years. Sunday’s rating was 6.8, up 28% over 1996 (5.3) and the highest Sunday rating in five years.

MR. JET SET

Who calls a news conference to announce he has just bought a $30.5-million jet?

Why, Greg Norman, of course.

He isn’t exactly golf’s Everyman, not with helicopters and Ferraris, $60,000 fax machines and now a spiffed-up version of Boeing’s 737 jetliner.

Last week before the U.S. Open, Norman announced he had just bought one of the aircraft and said he intended to spend $8 million more to juice it up a little bit.

The usual 737 can seat about 105, but through customizing, this new version that Norman bought, called a BBJ, will seat fewer than half that number. The BBJ features one or more offices, several bedrooms, a conference room, crew quarters and an exercise room.

There has been no mention of a putting green . . . yet.

Besides buying one, Norman also is endorsing the aircraft. He signed a seven-year, multimillion-dollar deal with Boeing.

STYLE

For what it’s worth, when Woods shot a 65 at the Masters, he immediately went out and hit balls on the practice range. When Montgomerie shot a 65 at the U.S. Open, he had lunch.

GREENING OF BROWNE

Olin Browne isn’t really a big name and hasn’t won a PGA Tour event, but the 38-year-old from Florida finished tied for fifth at the Open and continued to stand out in interesting ways.

Browne’s 84-year-old grandmother followed him during the third round and he chatted with her along the way. Browne’s wife, Pam, is an attorney, which may be a good thing for the players to remember when the Tour is in Florida.

When Browne, whose dad is Chilean, won a 1993 Nike Tour event in Monterrey, Mexico, he delivered his victory speech in Spanish.

And when Browne was being interviewed Friday after the second round of the Open, a kid accidentally dropped a golf ball off a balcony, hitting Browne on top of the head.

“Now the light goes on,” Browne deadpanned.

SLUMP

Corey Pavin, the 1995 U.S. Open champion, who hoped he was pulling out of a prolonged slump, apparently hasn’t done so. Pavin missed the cut by a shot at the Open and hasn’t had a top-25 finish since January.

HISTORY LESSON

With Montgomerie’s deflating finish, a U.S. Open tradition continued. For the 27th consecutive year, no player who held the outright lead after the first round went on to win.

Tony Jacklin, the 1970 Open champion, was the last first-round leader to win.

HE’S NOT SHORT

This is not a surprise: Woods leads the PGA Tour in driving distance, averaging 292.8 yards. But 5-foot-9, 165-pound Scott McCarron is second, averaging 284.7 yards.

DRIVE FOR SHOW

Woods had the most birdies in the Open, 17, and Els and Lehman tied for second at 16.

Woods led the driving statistics, averaging 306 yards, but just to confirm the fact that length isn’t always the answer to winning the Open, Els was No. 56 with a 263.9-yard average and Montgomerie was No. 46 with an average of 266.9 yards.

Woods finished tied for 19th.

It should be noted that Els and Lehman were part of a five-way tie for most greens hit in regulation. Lehman missed the two that counted Sunday.

OH, A MAC ATTACK

John McEnroe’s recent critical comments about the Senior PGA Tour prove two things: that at 38, Mac still can harangue with the best of them, and that he’s not entirely wrong about the senior tour . . . except you don’t ever say anything bad about Arnold Palmer.

McEnroe said the Senior PGA Tour is about personalities, not so much about statistics and abilities.

“Look at Arnold Palmer,” McEnroe said. “He can’t break an egg. I mean, I’m pulling for him because he’s a good human being. But he can’t make the top 50 on the senior tour, but he’s still one of the top two or three names. It’s not even about the scores.”

JACK WON OUT

Jack Kiefer, who won the $1.1-million du Maurier Champions senior event in Canada, is a former knuckleball pitcher who played briefly in the Detroit Tigers’ minor league system before turning to golf.

Kiefer made $165,000 for his second victory and his first since the Ralphs Senior Classic in 1994. Kiefer, 57, was a club pro before he got his Senior PGA Tour card in 1990.

BIRDIES, BOGEYS, PARS

Actors Stephen Baldwin and Jason Gedrick are sponsoring a celebrity tournament to benefit the AIDS Project Los Angeles. It will be played Monday at Braemar Country Club in Tarzana. Details: (213) 993-1335. . . . Golf isn’t irrelevant to Ronnie McAda. Irrelevant Week honoree McAda of Army is the last player chosen in the NFL draft, and Irrelevant Week has been extended to include two extra golf dates for him, Saturday at Newport Beach Country Club and Monday at either Tustin Ranch, Pelican Hill, Mesa Verde or Los Coyotes. . . . La Purisima Golf Course in Lompoc is holding its annual junior open July 9 for boys and girls who have not yet turned 18. The entry deadline is July 2. Details: (805) 735-8395.

Mammoth Lakes Foundation is sponsoring a tournament July 28 at Lakeside Golf Club in Toluca Lake. The event will benefit the foundation’s plan to build a college in Mammoth. Details: (619) 934-3781. . . . The American Red Cross is sponsoring a nine-hole evening tournament July 26 at the Lakes course at El Segundo, where special glow-in-the-dark golf balls will be used. Details: (310) 793-5541. . . . The Foundation Fighting Blindness will have a tournament Sept. 15 at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana. Details: (310) 274-5505.


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