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Holding On An impossible pin made making the cut that much harder

When the second round of the U.S. Open ended last Friday, so did
any doubt that the USGA would do anything to identify the best
player, even if that meant having to humiliate everyone in the
process. Nobody walked away unscathed after 36 holes at the
Olympic Club, not even many of those who made the cut, which
came at seven over par, the same as last year.

Tiger Woods, the top-ranked player in the world, had to rally to
play on the weekend after four-putting, twice, in the first two
rounds. Brad Faxon, Tom Lehman and Mark O'Meara also four-putted
during the first two days. The easygoing Lehman went postal on
Friday when his four-jack on the 18th hole turned a solid round
into a 75. He reamed the USGA official who was walking with his
threesome, then blasted another one in the scoring tent (Lehman
later apologized to both men) before storming to the locker
room. On the way he declined an interview request, saying, "Give
me half an hour, or I might kill somebody." He continued to vent
in the clubhouse, where expletives were followed by the sound of
slamming locker doors.

The blowup was one of many caused by the location of the hole on
the 18th green. By the end of the day, as the sun and the wind
combined to speed up the putting surface, the back-left pin
position was making players look foolish. Casey Martin, trying
to finish off a superb round, landed his approach shot on the
347-yard hole near the back edge, 15 feet past the pin. His ball
began to trickle back toward the cup and nearly stopped three
feet away. Nearly. The ball crept another 25 feet as the
gallery's cheers turned to cries of dismay. Martin three-putted,
giving him a bogey, and finished with a 71, which left him five
over, instead of a possible 69.

The absurdity of the pin position was made even more apparent
when the group of Fred Couples, John Daly and Frank Nobilo
reached the green an hour later. All three left their approach
shots below the hole. Nobilo's 35-foot putt pulled up short,
then dribbled back toward him for 25 feet. Couples's ball did
the same thing. Daly just missed his first try, then watched his
ball roll three feet backward. "My ball was one roll from going
all the way to the front of the green," Nobilo said. "That was
the worst pin ever seen in a major. I'm just glad it wasn't
Sunday. That pin could've determined the winner."

Said Daly, "People watching on TV probably thought we were
idiots. That's not golf, and it's not fair. It was stupid,
absolutely stupid. Thank god our Tour doesn't do that."

Payne Stewart put an exclamation point on the matter when his
10-foot sidehiller for birdie at 18 took a left turn before it
reached the hole. Stewart went to mark his ball, but it wouldn't
stop moving. After a few moments of waiting, he disgustedly
walked to the bottom of the green as the ball followed like a
trained dog. He two-putted from there for bogey, which reduced
his lead to one over Jeff Maggert and Bob Tway. "That pin is
cute, very cute," Stewart said. "I'll use other descriptions in
the locker room. It was bordering on ridiculous."

David Fay, the executive director of the USGA, admitted that
cutting the hole on that area of the green was a mistake. He
said that only the front portion of the green is playable, but
putting the pin up front all four days would have caused
complaints about footprints, spike marks and wear and tear. The
USGA gambled that by watering the back of the green and mowing
it less, it could create an alternative hole location, and lost.
"We expected it to be the most difficult [location] on the
green, but thought it would be acceptable," Fay said. "We made a
decision, and it didn't turn out the way we had hoped. That was
a miscalculation."

The 18th wasn't impossible. Jack Nicklaus holed a 40-footer for
birdie to make the cut. "I figured I had to make that putt to
play the weekend," he said. "Somehow I willed it in." Lee Porter
backed in a wedge shot for an eagle 2 that vaulted him to a
fourth-place tie after 36. "I was just glad I didn't have to
putt," he said.

Kirk Triplett, a late finisher on Friday, didn't wait for his
backward-rolling putt on 18 to finish its trip. He jammed his
putter down on the ball, stopping it, then tapped in. That
Open-induced frustration cost him a two-stroke penalty--not that
it mattered. He finished 12 over par. "I suspect he was trying
to make a statement," said Fay.

Olympic's other 17 holes were difficult enough without trickery.
The five-inch rough was too much for Tommy Tolles, who
aggravated a back injury and quit after five holes. Dudley Hart
hurt his right wrist slashing out and withdrew after 18. PGA
champion Davis Love III, still nursing a tender back, opened
with a disappointing eight-over 78 and followed with a 75.

The top 60 plus ties make the cut, which this year came at seven
over. Only the heroics of Rocky Walcher, a journeyman pro from
Oklahoma City, kept the number from going to eight. He got up
and down for par on the 36th hole to remain seven over and
become the 60th, and last, player in the field, thus knocking
out the 15 golfers tied at plus eight, including Open champions
Hale Irwin, Corey Pavin and Tom Watson.

Watson bogeyed the 4th, 5th and 18th holes on both days while
making only four birdies. "My long game was really off," he
said. "I played like a hacker." Irwin, the king of the Senior
tour, was almost in tears after opening with an 80. "I've been
run over," he said. "Unbelievable. I don't think I had false
hopes, but I had some hopes of playing well here. I'm
embarrassed." The round wasn't a simple case of a Senior player
not being able to cut it on a tough course. Irwin bounced back
with a 68 on Friday. "Today showed I can play," he said.

When he finished, he hoped that the 12-footer for birdie he had
left short at 18 wouldn't keep him from making the cut, although
he had a bad feeling that it would. "My family is here, and we
don't want to be tourists," Irwin said. "We don't want to see
San Francisco on the weekend."

Irwin's Open was over, however. The course had won.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN BIEVER Rough start Woods, off-balance after a pair of four-putts in the first two rounds, never broke 70 and wound up in a tie for 18th. [Tiger Woods]

COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Trouble spot After Stewart missed this 10-footer for birdie at 18, he two-putted for bogey--from almost 30 feet below the hole. [18th hole of Olympic Club golf course]

"That was the worst pin ever seen in a major," Nobilo said. "I'm
just glad it wasn't Sunday."