© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2002
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- As if to justify the special exemption given to him by the USGA just a few weeks ago, Nick Faldo played as if it were the old days Saturday during the third round of the U.S. Open.
Faldo, 45, a six-time major-championship winner playing in his 60th consecutive Grand Slam event, shot the best round of the tournament, 4-under-par 66.
"That was as good as my heyday, that really was," said Faldo, who had six birdies and two bogeys on the 7,214-yard course. He was tied for eighth and trailed Tiger Woods by seven. "I hit so many solid shots. That was as good as 10 years ago, or maybe as good as Augusta (the Masters in 1996) when I won."
Faldo lost in a U.S. Open playoff to Curtis Strange in 1988 and missed a playoff in 1990 by a stroke -- the winner was Hale Irwin, the last player to win the tournament after receiving a special exemption. Irwin also was 45 at the time.
Faldo has had a resurgence this season after several years of struggles. He has four top-10 finishes on the European PGA Tour. He also tied for 14th at the Masters.
"A couple of years ago, I was really down with my game and slowly clawed things back. Very slowly," Faldo said. "This year, things have come along well. I've pieced a lot of little things together, and it's turned things around."
WARRICK'S CHAGRIN: When he was done counting the strokes, Kevin Warrick only could laugh. His tee shot at the 18th hole came to rest in the thick heather. From there, it was an adventure.
"I took a few swings at it, and it all added up to a 9," said Warrick, an amateur from Valrico who shot 84.
Warrick, 21, who got in the tournament through sectional qualifying at Old Memorial in Tampa, was in last place at 23-over 233. But he will be the low amateur because he was the only one to make the cut.
"I was a little disgusted before that with the way I was playing," Warrick said. "I was a little upset. Maybe that will put me in a better frame of mind for (today). I just had to laugh."
Warrick will be paired in the first group with two-time major winner John Daly.
BACK TO BLACK?: Although there has been grumbling about the way the course was set up, few would argue Bethpage Black has been an excellent venue. In fact, a USGA official hinted the tournament would return as soon as possible.
"I don't know how many years, but somewhere in the very near future," said Tom Meeks, USGA director of rules and competitions.
The Open is committed through 2007: Olympia Fields (2003), Shinnecock Hills (2004), Pinehurst (2005), Winged Foot (2006) and Oakmont (2007). It is widely believed the 2008 Open will go to California, at either Torrey Pines in San Diego or Riviera in Los Angeles. Could Bethpage get it in 2009?
"After we're done here, we'll sit down and evaluate what we liked, what we didn't and what we can do better," Meeks said.
PADDLED: Ireland's Padraig Harrington lamented his missed opportunity. Woods shot par 70, and Harrington, who began the round just three back, had 73 to fall six behind.
"The conditions were perfect for golf, and there was, obviously, an opportunity to gain on him," Harrington said. "That's the disappointing thing about the day. I've just got to play a little better."
DIVOTS: After making the cut at 10 over, Vijay Singh made the biggest move with 67. He went from a tie for 60th to a tie for 22nd. ... Jeff Maggert had the only bogey-free round, adding two birdies for 68. He was tied for third, five back. ... There were 13 players who had subpar rounds, three more than the first two rounds combined. ... A day after allowing just 7.1 percent of the players to reach the green in regulation, the par-4 seventh was a bit easier. There were 44.4 percent who reached the 489-yard hole in two.