Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tiger's Not Only Cat Stalking Open Crown It's Lehman's Love, 'Twas Love's Fold-O, Is Faldo's Focus

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tiger's Not Only Cat Stalking Open Crown It's Lehman's Love, 'Twas Love's Fold-O, Is Faldo's Focus

Article excerpt

In this year of the Tiger, the world of golf is bent all out of proportion. At Congressional Country Club on Wednesday, nine players were paraded in and out of the pressroom for chats, as well as four USGA officials. None of them was Tiger Woods.

Yet, the fourth estate saw fit to ask these various participants in the 97th playing of the U.S. Open a total of 24 questions regarding the 21-year old Masters champion. And we're not out of the Woods yet.

As the 156 most accurate stick-swingers in the world prepare to play the longest Baja trail in this tournament's 101-year history (7,213 yards), Woods will be the center of attention. He will be playing alongside the 1996 Open champ, Steve Jones, and the 1996 British Open champ, Tom Lehman. He will be competing against many past champions, aspiring champions, champions of causes. In olden times, these players would be pestered for their thoughts, glamorized for their talents, discussed as favorites. In the year of the Tiger, the favorite already is established, each time he plays. "A guy who is a great player, it doesn't matter where you put him," Lehman said. "You can put him on the moon, he can still play good golf. He's a great player, and he's going to play this course just fine, rough and all. It's going to be tough to win by 12 shots maybe, but it's not like, well, he can't handle this course, because he can. So, to say he's not one of the favorites is ridiculous." But, to say there are no others is equally absurd. Lehman, for one, deserves some due. He finished oh-so-close last year. Only a drive struck too solidly, that rolled a yard-and-a-half through the fairway and into a bunker, kept him from challenging Jones on the final hole. Instead, he finished in a tie for second with Davis Love III. "You don't need to be the best player in the field," said Lehman, 38, "but you need to be on your game that week. I was actually talking to Jack Nicklaus last week about the U.S. Open and . . . he said that he always wished he could come in where he played just decently on Thursday and then improved every day. He didn't want to be peaking on Thursday, he wanted to be peaking on Sunday." Lehman has played with Woods before, albeit briefly. He stood on the playoff hole tee at the rainy Tournament of Champions and watched the phenom knock his tee shot a foot from the jar for the win. At the Open, tagging along with Tiger, and the nations that follow him, will be a Catch-22 proposition. "I think it always helps to play with the players who have a really good chance to win," Lehman said. "I think it helps to get you more focused. If a group can get momentum, it's good for everybody." While Lehman was most noticeable in defeat last year, playing with Jones in the last pairing, Love's near miss is almost forgotten - by everyone but him. …

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