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Open for the taking

A logjam atop the leaderboard and Tiger Woods nowhere near it has everyone optimistic.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 17, 2001


TULSA, Okla. -- This is the way major championships used to look and feel, before the Striped One came along, certainly before he started dominating the world's most important golf tournaments.

[AP photo]
Retief Goosen tips his cap as he arrives on the 12th hole during the Saturday's third round at the U.S. Open at the Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.
In a world without Tiger Woods, the leaderboard was typically filled with a smattering of the game's top players, wannabes and "who's thats." And there was no predicting who would walk away holding the hardware.

With Woods seemingly out of contention, nine shots removed from the lead in his quest to win a fifth straight major, the 101st U.S. Open is set up for final-round shootout with a myriad of possibilities.

Stewart Cink and Retief Goosen lead, with Sergio Garcia, Mark Brooks, Rocco Mediate, Phil Mickelson, David Duval and Paul Azinger in pursuit.

"We have definitely had a trend the last few years, and it's easy to look at just one guy," said Azinger, who along with Brooks are the only major championship winners among the top 10. "They are all good players. There's a whole lot of great players out here and Tiger's made it pretty easy because it's all about one guy.

"The reality is there's a lot of great players and a bunch of proven champions that have really been minimized. And it's nobody's fault but Tiger's. He's played really well. But there are still some great players who can play this game other than Tiger Woods."

And perhaps they better use this opportunity to step up. Woods is in 23rd place, in need of a minor miracle to defend his title. This is a chance to snag a major in an era when they are quite difficult to attain.

Cink, 28, a two-time PGA Tour winner from Atlanta, shot 3-under-par 67 to tie second-round co-leader Goosen, 32, a South African, at 5-under 205. Garcia, who finished second to Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship, shot 68 to finish a stroke back along with Mediate (67) and Brooks (70). Garcia, 21, could become the youngest Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923. And he figures an exciting day is ahead.

"Probably, because somebody's not going to win by 10 or 12," Garcia said.

Mickelson, who has 18 PGA Tour victories, more than any active player without a major, shot 68, and was two back. Azinger (69), who won the 1993 PGA Championship, and Duval (71), who finished second to Woods at the Masters in April, were five behind at 210.

"There's probably eight or nine or 10 guys who have a shot at it," said Mickelson, who finished third to Woods at the Masters and was second at the Open two years ago to Payne Stewart. "It seems like it's going to be a real shootout. And I don't think it's going to be a shootout with birdies. I think it's going to be a shootout with a lot of pars."

That would seemingly make it difficult for Woods, who shot 69 and was at 214.

"He's just showing you that every blue moon he becomes human," said Mediate, a three-time PGA Tour winner who has never seriously contended in a major. "And this is one of those weeks. Who knows? He might have a 62 in his bag. But every once in a while, the big guns have to play like everyone else."

Cink's 67 was the most impressive score of the day, given that he bogeyed the first hole and double bogeyed the second. But he birdied four straight holes starting at the fourth, and surged into the lead with birdie at the 15th.

"I'm very excited," Cink said. "I have a chance to win a major and it's the one tournament I'd love to win the most. I'd rather be where I am than one shot or two shots back."

Goosen has four victories on the European Tour but none in the United States, where he has had little success. But he has adapted well, especially considering that last week he played the English Open, where conditions were cold and windy -- a stark contrast to this week's heat wave.

"Last week we got windburn, and this week we get sunburn," Goosen said. "It was a bit different coming out and suddenly being in a sauna. I feel like I'm losing a few pounds."

Goosen and the other contenders will be sweating it out today. And for once, it won't be for second place.

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