Saturday, June 14

Checking in from Olympia Fields

Jesper Parnevik
Nate Lauber is a Tiger Woods fan -- as he demonstrated Saturday at Olympia Fields.

Tiger trouble: No one has rallied from more than seven shots back to win the U.S. Open on Sunday. Tiger Woods is 11 back -- and unless he overcomes that, he'll be without a major championship title to defend for the first time in four years.

How important is a good start in a major? It can't hurt, but it certain didn't help Jay Don Blake, who shot 66 on Thursday but followed it with 77-75. Nor Tom Watson, who led after 18 holes with a 65 before shooting 72-75. Or Len Mattiace, who's turned in scores of 69-73-77.

No go for Phil: Phil Mickelson will now be 0-for-44 in the majors. He shot 75 on Saturday. "I didn't get off to a good start and then it just got worse," said Mickelson, who is tied for 50th and has hit just 15 fairways (out of 42) in three rounds.

Amateur analysis: The Open got even with Ricky Barnes and Trip Kuehne, the only two amateurs to make the cut. Kuehne shot 76, a day after he's fired a 67 to make the cut. Barness, who played the first two rounds with Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, shot 79. "I ot welcomed to the U.S. Open today," said Kuehne. "It wasn't very good."

Watsonmania: Tom Watson shot 75 to fall into a tie for 33rd place. He struggled with his driver throughout. "I wanted to shoot 68 today," Watson said. "I was eight fairways shy of 68." Nonetheless, Watson and caddie Bruce Edwards got standing ovations as they walked off every green. Watson, who's 53, has hinted that Sunday may be his final Open round.

Dicky Pride is 444th in the world rankings. He's won $104,913 this year on the PGA Tour, but $75,000 of that came in one weekent at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He's supplemented that with $24,000-plus on the Nationwide Tour, but that's about $3 million less than Tiger Woods has made (not counting the cash from Nike, et. al.).

So why should you feel good about Pride and his bid Sunday for the U.S. Open title? Because he feels good about it himself. Really good. A little over a year ago, Pride was in the hospital in Orlando, suffering from gallstones and pancreatitis and wondering if he was going to survive it. He had to be fed through a tube for two months and had his gall bladder removed.

He missed four months of play and won just $142,556 -- 190th on the PGA Tour.

Pride is the ultimate grinder. He played collegiate golf at Alabama and made it as far as the U.S. Amateur semifinals in 1991. He turned pro in 1992 and was on the PGA Tour two years later. A year after that, he won his only event, the St. Jude Classic in Memphis. That year, he won $305,000 and was 57th on the tour money list. He hasn't been higher than 125th since and lost his tour card last year.

Saturday, he teed off Saturday at noon CT -- a full three hours before the leaders. There were 17 twosomes still to play after him. But he got the clubhouse with a 66 and, as he answered questions, watched his name slowly climb up the leader board until it settled at a tie for fifth.

"It's kind of unbelievable," Pride said -- referring to his health, rather than his place in the standings.

Pride will have some extra incentive on Sunday, Father's Day. His dad Dick, was a coach at Alabama and taught his son the game. But Dick, too, has had health trouble -- he's currently suffering from Parkinson's Disease. Dicky Pride hopes his dad (who caddied for him in his first U.S. Open appearance 11 years ago) will be able to see him play in the third-to-last group at the Open. Dicky will call him, nonetheless.

"It's kind of like all gravy," Pride said Saturday. "When you go through what I did last year, just being able to play is nice." A good finish would be even nicer.


About being near the lead in the third round of a major: "On the back nine, I felt a little nauseous. I hadn't felt that this year."

On what he needs: "I'd have to probably shoot a Johnny Miller-like round tomorrow. You never know -- it could happen."

On Sunday: "Stephen Leaney doesn't matter. Nick Price, Vijay Singh -- none of that matters. I just need to go out and play a solid round of golf."

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