By BRANT JAMES
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2001
BROOKSVILLE -- It wasn't so much that Rusty Stocker was being cocky, but with nine years of experience on World Woods' Pine Barrens course he knew his 66 was going to be enough. So confident was the Homosassa resident Wednesday, he left the U.S. Open local qualifier after his round -- with more than 80 golfers on the course -- and didn't return for about three hours. Stocker, 30, arrived in time to see St. Petersburg's John Lindner post 69, but Stocker's 4-under effort remained the best among the six who advanced to U.S. Open sectional qualifying.
"I had two three-putts because of the speed of the greens, but other than that, I didn't make many mistakes," said Stocker, who two years ago missed the PGA Qualifying School finals by a stroke. "It was just an easy 66."
Wednesday's qualifying was one of 101 around the country that offered hopefuls -- for a $100 fee -- the chance to play their way into the USGA's prestige tournament. The top six scorers from each local qualifier advance to 13 sectional tournaments, where the number of U.S. Open berths are determined by strength of field.
Stocker, who played the Nike (now the Buy.com) Tour, said he will play his U.S. Open sectional June 4 in Rockville, Md. A large, talented field could earn that sectional as many as 35 Open slots.
Stocker and Lindner will be joined by Ocoee's Bart Bryant, who shot 70, and Homosassa's Joe Cioe, Dunedin's Kenneth Palladino and Royal Palm Beach's Brandon Smith, all of whom shot 71 and eliminated Jupiter's Christopher Reeves in a one-hole playoff. Palladino, 44, a motion picture lighting technician playing in his second qualifier, sank an uphill 12-foot putt to secure his spot in regional play at Old Memorial in Tampa. He and the rest of the group at 71 thought they had spots secured until Bryant -- playing in the final group -- posted 70 and forced a five-man playoff for four spots.
"This is awesome," Palladino said. "I was really hoping no one was coming in with a low score, but they did. I got lucky there on that putt. I just wanted to get close and get out of there."