By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 21, 2009
FARMINGDALE, N.Y., June 20 -- For several hours Saturday, the true star of this U.S. Open -- the radar map -- ceded the stage, and out stepped Ricky Barnes and Lucas Glover. Either could walk into a crowded restaurant in Manhattan and neither be recognized by fans nor seated without a reservation. Yet there they were at the top of the leader board, two players who between them had made the cut once in seven completely anonymous Open appearances. Saturday, they appeared to master the rather docile Black Course at Bethpage State Park.
Barnes led at the midway point by one shot over Glover before rains came again Saturday night, and he did so with a very un-Open-like 8-under-par 132. No one in the 109-year history of the Open has posted a lower 36-hole total. Had these names with those scores popped up at, say, the John Deere Classic, no one would have blinked. But this is the U.S. Open, and in a normal U.S. Open, Tiger Woods's two-round score of 3-over 143 would likely be within a few shots of contention instead of one shot off the cut.
"Different," Woods said, "than most U.S. opens."
Those two developments -- Barnes leading the tournament on the strength of a brilliant second-round 65, and Woods flirting with the cut line -- would qualify as significant surprises. But the biggest surprise of Saturday -- which featured the completion of the second round and the very beginning of the third -- was that play continued unabated until nearly 7 p.m. Only then did rain finally pour down in sheets, with some players on the first few holes of the third round.
The plan, then, is for play to resume at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, with each player returning to the spot he left. Shockingly, given the Armageddon-like forecasts, Saturday's rain only cost the field perhaps an hour of time on the course. Thursday's downpours -- which delayed almost all of the first round and set up this race for a Sunday-night finish -- was the true culprit, not only upsetting the flow of the tournament, but rattling Bethpage Black itself.
When this course hosted the Open for the first time in 2002, Woods held the second-round lead at 5 under. But back then, Padraig Harrington was the only other player under par at the midway point. This year, 15 players broke par after 36 holes.
How much easier is this tournament playing than a typical Open? Friday, Mike Weir threatened the all-time record for low round of a major tournament. Saturday, Glover had a 20-foot putt to match the record of 63, accomplished four times in the Open. He missed it, but posted the second 64 in as many days.
"If you would have told me I would have been 8 under and had only a one-shot lead, I would have said, 'You're kidding me,' " said Barnes, who has never even finished in the top 10 in a PGA Tour event. "But I'll take it. It was solid play, and I'm happy with the position I'm at."
It is, simply, a position Barnes has never enjoyed. After a successful career at the University of Arizona, he won the U.S. Amateur in 2002. He has won nothing since. Not on the PGA Tour, on which he is a 28-year-old rookie. And not on the Nationwide Tour, which he played full-time for five seasons. That kind of start to a professional career, which seemed to be filled with promise, is unsettling.
"I obviously thought, after my college career, I'd be out here [on tour] right away," Barnes said. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't really [ticked] off the first two or three years, and seeing other guys that you played with getting out there and playing well."
Friday and Saturday, Barnes played exceptionally well. He made one bogey in 36 holes, and that kind of grinding performance typically hangs around the lead at the Open. The difference: He added nine birdies. Officials from the U.S. Golf Association -- with their meticulous course left soft from the rain and, therefore, nearly defenseless -- must have shuddered in their blazers.
"You could be pretty aggressive," Woods said. "The only thing you have to worry [about] is spinning the ball back too much. Even with 6-irons and 5-irons, balls are ripping back."
Woods was, indeed, aggressive. He just couldn't get anything going. After opening with a 74 and starting his second round on the 10th hole, he dropped as low as 2 over for the tournament, but missed an eight-foot birdie putt at 16, a 10-footer for par at 3, and another makable par putt at 9, his final hole of the day.
"Unfortunately, my score doesn't reflect how I've been playing," said Woods, who parred the only hole he completed in the third round. "It is what it is. But you never know. I've got 36 more holes over the next, probably, three days, and it's one of those things where if I keep plugging along, just like any U.S. Open . . . and make a birdie here and there, and we'll see where it ends up."
There are, though, two potential problems with that line of thinking. First, Woods has never overcome an 11-shot, 36-hole deficit to win a major. Only one player -- Lou Graham, in 1975 at Medinah -- has done so to win an Open. The other problem is this: Making a birdie here and there, on a Bethpage track that is shockingly tame, just might not be enough.
Barnes and Glover, the final pairing, left the course Saturday still waiting to start the third round. Sunday could mean a grueling, 36-hole finish, weather permitting. But with the rain further softening the Black Course Saturday night, there was reason to believe the mantra of the final round of this Open won't be "Make a par, and move on." Rather, Barnes might turn to Glover on the first tee and ask, "How low can you go?"