Commentary

Barnes, Glover hold tenuous Open lead

Originally Published: June 21, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- The golf fans who have made a name for themselves at Bethpage Black for their boisterous behavior could have refused to consume alcohol, suddenly turned polite, and such a transformation wouldn't have been more surprising than the name atop the leaderboard at the 109th U.S. Open.

Ricky Barnes?

He shot even-par 70 and was the 54-hole leader of the 109th U.S. Open, then started to play like someone who had never been there before as the fourth round started and -- thankfully for him -- quickly was suspended Sunday night.

Trying to describe the improbability of Barnes' ascension to this lofty position is tougher than gouging a shot out of the wet, thick rough.

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Here are a few whacks from the fescue:

• Barnes, 28, is ranked 519th in the world, just ahead of Titch Moore and just behind Iain Pyman.

• The 2002 U.S. Amateur champion, Barnes needed another six years to make it to the PGA Tour, finally doing so after finishing 25th on the Nationwide Tour money list in 2008.

• His best finish is a tie for 47th and he's missed six cuts in 12 previous starts.

• He's ranked 192nd in putting average -- dead last.

• As recently as two years ago, Barnes had no status on either the PGA Tour or the Nationwide Tour.

But perhaps most remarkable of all -- Barnes has been within 10 shots of the final-round lead in a PGA Tour event just three times, the last coming in 2004, and one of those the 2003 Masters when he was an amateur. Consider that Tiger Woods has six top-10s this year.

And now Barnes shares the lead with Lucas Glover at the U.S. Open?

What in the name of Francis Ouimet is going on?

"I don't think you come in saying, 'I'm going to win this week,'" Barnes said. "I wanted to compete this week. I definitely thought that I could compete."

Competing is one thing. Setting a 36-hole U.S. Open scoring record, following it up with an even-par 70 in the last pairing to shoot the second-lowest 54-hole total in U.S. Open history, to even have a sniff at winning a major championship ... all of this is a bit much to comprehend.

Unless, of course, you are Barnes' coach, Dean Reinmuth, who has seen this coming. Maybe not contending at -- certainly not winning -- the U.S. Open. But putting his game together after years of frustration.

"What I've always said to Ricky or anybody I've worked with, when we start, we're in this to build a career, not to win a tournament," Reinmuth said Sunday from Vancouver, where he went after spending time earlier in the week with Barnes at Bethpage. "You're not in this to win a U.S. Open and nobody ever hears from you again.

"To be a consistent winner, you have to look at the overall picture. The good thing for him is the way he held it together and was able to keep the round together."

After hitting 31 greens through the first 36 holes and making just one bogey, then playing the first three holes in 4 under par in Round 3, Barnes ran into the kind of difficulty that you would expect of a guy who had missed three of four cuts in his previous U.S. Open experience. He's never even sniffed being in contention all year on the PGA Tour.

Barnes became just the fourth player in U.S. Open history to get to double digits under par when he eagled the fourth hole to go 11-under. At one point, Barnes owned a 6-shot lead over the field. But over the course of the rest of the round, Barnes gave it back, although shooting even par in the third round of the U.S. Open is commendable. He then bogeyed the first hole of the fourth round and hit a poor drive at the second before play was suspended.

It was good for a tie with Glover, whose lone PGA Tour victory came at Disney and who had never made the cut at a U.S. Open before this week. Glover, who along with Barnes had to go through sectional qualifying to reach the field at Bethpage Black, knows that he doesn't scare anybody, either.

"I don't think there's very many people who think I can or will do it anyway, so that's fine," Glover said. "First time I made the cut at an Open, won one tournament. ..."

And then there is David Duval, ranked 882nd in the world, who is tied for third with Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan and Ross Fisher.

Duval or Barnes would be the lowest-ranked player to win a major championship since the Official World Golf Ranking was established in 1986. The current "leader" in that category? Ben Curtis, who was 396th when he won the 2003 British Open, which happened to be his first major championship. The "lowest" in a U.S. Open came in 1996, when Steve Jones was ranked 100th.

Perhaps that kind of evidence gives confidence to the pursuers.

"You just never know what's going to happen in this event," said Mickelson, who is 5 strokes back. "I think that if somebody around even, 1-, 2-under par can get a hot round, shoot 4-, 5-, 6-under, you just never know what's going to happen.

"If there were 30 people ahead of me, I would have to shoot 8-, 9-, 10-under-par to have a chance. And there are [four]. If I get a hot round going, I can get a little bit of momentum. Absolutely I feel like I can make up the difference."

Mickelson is playing in his 61st consecutive major championship and has won three of them. Barnes and Glover, combined, are playing in their ninth U.S. Open, with three made cuts between them. Duval, whose last victory came at the 2001 British Open, has no top-10s since 2002.

So while he wouldn't say such a thing publicly, you can see why Mickelson -- who had just five pars during his third-round 69 but still moved up the leaderboard -- feels like he has a chance.

"Having won a couple of majors, I feel confident and I'm able to be patient much easier in a challenging event like this," Mickelson said.

Can Barnes do it? Glover?

"I had to do it the first time, why can't it be them?" said Todd Hamilton, the surprise winner of the 2004 British Open in a playoff over Ernie Els. "Maybe they can take solace that I won, won a major. Ben Curtis won a major. We're not really household names. We've had good careers."

But winning a major makes a career -- especially for a guy like Barnes, who to this point, hasn't really had one to speak of.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com