2002: Faldo, 44, visits yesterday with 66 and a tie for fifth

Farmingdale, N.Y.

The best round of the 102nd U.S. Open belonged to Nick Faldo, a six-time major champion who needed a special invitation from the U.S. Golf Association just to play at Bethpage Black.

Faldo, 44, who wore a cap all week emblazoned with “I love New York,” closed with 3-over-par 73 to tie for fifth at 5-over 285. But the score that got his juices flowing was a third-round 66, his lowest score in 58 U.S. Open rounds.

“That was as good as my heyday, that really was,” Faldo said after his six-birdie, two-bogey effort Saturday. “I hit so many good shots. That was as good as 10 years ago, or maybe Augusta when I won (in 1996).”

Faldo said he hopes his play provides a lift for his return to Muirfield next month, where he won the British Open in 1987 and 1992, the last time it was played there.

“That’s given me a real big boost,” he said. “I’ve changed a few things in the last month, a little bit of my swing, a little bit on strengthening, diet, everything. It’s given me a good boost to work hard the next month so when I get to Muirfield, you never know, I might . . . I obviously love the place, and if I can play the wind shots the way I want to, you don’t know, I might have a hell of a week.”

Faldo’s finish earned him an exemption into next year’s U.S. Open at Olympia Fields outside Chicago.

Mr. U.S. Open: Jeff Maggert’s tie for third was his best showing at a U.S. Open and his sixth top-10 finish at the Open since 1994. Maggert moved into contention with a bogey-free 68 in the third round – the only bogey-free round of the day – but faltered Sunday, shooting 72.

“I didn’t drive the ball really well enough to give myself an opportunity to make some birdies,” Maggert said. “Deep down inside I thought it was a 4- or 5-under round today to have a chance, and without being in the fairway often enough, I really put myself behind the eight-ball. But I’m excited with my week – definitely my game is getting better. I think I have more work to do on my golf swing, but this is definitely a good stepping stone in the right direction.”

Maggert’s finish earned him an exemption into next April’s Masters, which he missed this spring, breaking a string of 38 consecutive majors.

Wish you were here: Hale Irwin, a three-time U.S. Open champion playing on a special exemption, voiced surprise and displeasure that U.S. Senior Open champion Bruce Fleisher chose not to play in the U.S. Open, instead opting to play a Senior PGA Tour event.

“I think he represents a pretty important segment of the golf industry,” Irwin said. “It’s that simple. There are certain obligations and certain things I think you owe back to the game. I don’t know what his reasons are (for not being here). Maybe they’re personal. . . . He’s the U.S. Senior Open winner. I’ve seen him play. If they (the USGA) didn’t want that category, they wouldn’t put it in there.”

Back to Black: Expect the U.S. Open to return to Bethpage Black in a few years.

“I don’t know how many years, but some time in the very near future,” said Tom Meeks, USGA rules and competition director.

The USGA has named Open sites through 2007. The ’08 Open likely will go to Torrey Pines (South Course) in San Diego, and Pebble Beach and Riviera are possibilities to follow soon after.

“I knew this would be a great Open,” said USGA executive director David Fay, the man who had the idea of bringing the national championship to Bethpage. “I didn’t know it would be this good.”

Your champion: A letter from Tokyo that reached Tiger Woods’ locker was addressed only, “World No. 1 Golfer, the 2000 U.S. Open champion, Mr. Tiger Woods.” . . . Woods surpassed $30 million in career earnings with his victory. Only one other player, Phil Mickelson, has earned more than $20 million. . . . Woods made his 89th consecutive cut at the Open. John Huston’s streak of 21 consecutive cuts made ended at Bethpage, so the player now closest to Woods is Nick Price, with 20. . . . With a third-round 70, Woods extended his streak of consecutive rounds at par or better in the majors to 10. . . . Woods and Mark O’Meara shared a large house on Long Island for the week.

Ace keys Maruyama: Shigeki Maruyama aced the 161-yard 14th hole with an 8-iron in the second round, the 35th known hole-in-one in U.S. Open history. Maruyama sandwiched the ace with two birdies in shooting the day’s best score, 67, in the steady rain.

“It’s pretty shocking what Maruyama shot,” Davis Love III said on a day when the average score was 76.47. “It’s just a miracle to shoot anywhere around par.”

Maruyama moved up 89 spots, from a tie for 96th to a tie for seventh. On the flip side, Stewart Cink and Steve Lowery fell the farthest. Each followed an opening 70 with an 82 and missed the cut by two strokes. They slipped from a tie for seventh to a tie for 86th.

Later in the tournament, Andy Miller, son of NBC analyst Johnny Miller, and Scott Hoch added the 36th and 37th holes-in-one in Open history. Miller aced the 205-yard third and Hoch scored his at the 207-yard 17th.

Amateur hits with pros: Ryan Divac got a memory for life on his 43rd birthday, thanks to an offhand comment he made during a Wednesday practice round. His U.S. Open moment began when he yelled out that John Maginnes should be able to reach the green from the rough on the second hole because, “I hit from the rough every Sunday.”

As it happened, former PGA champion Jeff Sluman responded, “Well, if you think you can do it, let’s see you come out here and try.”

Divac did. He went under the rope, took a 9-iron from one of the players and hit the ball a few feet from the green as the gallery roared.

He high-fived the players and later got the ball signed by Maginnes.

“What a (birthday) present,” Divac said.

1-for-155: Woody Austin finished his second round by holing a 9-iron shot for an eagle 2. But he missed the cut by five strokes with 79-76–155. “I hit one shot out of 155,” Austin said. “I just played like a dog.”

7-for-8: Paul Goydos missed the cut (80-78), but at least he knows how to get to the Open. Goydos, a PGA Tour veteran, has qualified successfully in seven of his eight Open sectionals.

“I don’t know if there’s a secret,” he said. “I think it’s luck.”

Short shots: Only three of the eight former U.S. Open champions in the field made the cut: Woods, Ernie Els and Corey Pavin. . . . Only 7.1 percent of the field hit the green in regulation on the par-4, 489-yard seventh hole in the rainy second round. The next day, though, in ideal conditions, 44.4 percent reached in regulation. . . . Bob Estes, who came into the U.S. Open having won his last start (Kemper Insurance Open), shot 81-73 and said he was overmatched by Bethpage Black. “I’m not worried about it. I know I’m not good enough yet, and I know I have a long ways to go – and I’m ranked No. 13 or 14 in the world. I’m nowhere near good enough to play this golf course.” . . . Kevin Warrick finished last among those who made the U.S. Open cut, but was the lone amateur to play on the weekend. Warrick, 21, played on West Florida’s NCAA Division II national championship team of 2001. . . . The Open marked a homecoming of sorts for Chris DiMarco, who spent his early years in Huntington, and Len Mattiace, who lived only five minutes from Bethpage and played high school matches there. “I left here when I was 14 and those are kid memories, and I haven’t been a kid in a while,” Mattiace said. “I remember in seventh grade, taking a trip to the roof of the Twin Towers. That hits home.”

– Jeff Babineau and Jeff Rude

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