Marino makes most of Open chance

“It was one of the hardest courses I’ve ever played,” he said of Friday’s trip after a benign Thursday. “I don’t think I could have shot one stroke less today.”

“It was one of the hardest courses I’ve ever played,” he said of Friday’s trip after a benign Thursday. “I don’t think I could have shot one stroke less today.”

Scores »

The Masters

Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club

4/10/2014 - 4/13/2014

Pos Name Thru Today Overall
1 Bubba Watson $1,620,000 600 -8
2 Jonas Blixt $792,000 270 -5
2 Jordan Spieth $792,000 270 -5
4 Miguel Angel Jimenez $432,000 0 -4
5 Rickie Fowler $342,000 115 -2
Complete Leaderboard »

TURNBERRY, Scotand – About a week ago, the man now at the top of the British Open leaderboard wasn’t expecting to be here. In the Open. The top of the board wasn’t even near the realm of his fantasies.

Steve Marino wasn’t in the field then and didn’t think he’d get in. Middle of last week, he was playing in America’s heartland, at the John Deere Classic, and wasn’t planning on traveling to Scotland as the second alternate.

He had no passport with him. He had no proper warm-weather clothing. He had no long-sleeve rain jacket. He had little inclination.

But then Phil Mickelson, his wife undergoing breast-cancer treatment, pulled out of the Open last Thursday. That withdrawal made Marino first alternate and got him thinking about jumping through 11th-hour hoops.

So he called his father and asked him to get on an airplane Friday and fly from Virginia to Florida to get his passport and express-mail it to him at the Deere. On Sunday, he learned he got into the Open because Shingo Katayama had withdrawn because of injury. So he joined the 20 or so players on a charter flight from the Quad Cities.

“I didn’t think I was going to be an alternate, let alone playing,” Marino said.

Then there’s the stunning matter of leading. Marino, 29, is a fine player, one of the PGA Tour’s best who have yet to win. In his third Tour season, he’s No. 27 in Tour earnings thanks in large part to a playoff loss at Colonial. And he’s ranked 77th in the world.

But leading midway? In his first Open? In his first trip to Great Britain? After getting his body clock messed up the first day here? Without having the proper gear starting out? After never having finished better than 60th in three previous majors?

“I really didn’t have any expectations,” Marino said.

Or links experience. The Open leader has played but four rounds of links golf in his life, all this week, two in practice, two for real. He barely knew a bump from a run.

But here he is, leading the world’s oldest golf championship at 5-under 135 (67-68) at Turnberry, tied with this year’s Cinderella senior, five-time Open champion Tom Watson, 59. It’s just the second time Marino has led a tournament after 36 holes; the first time, in 2007, he slipped back to T-37 at the Wyndham Championship.

“It was one of the hardest courses I’ve ever played,” he said of Friday’s trip after a benign Thursday. “I don’t think I could have shot one stroke less today.”

So, then, how do we explain Marino up top? A few things. Putting; he took only 22 putts Friday. Talent; he’s a confident and aggressive player, a long hitter and a good putter. Long hole-outs; he holed a sand wedge from 116 yards at No. 3, a 30-foot putt at 5, a bunker shot at 6 and a 20-footer for eagle at 17.

At the moment, ignorance appears to be bliss.

“I’m just having a blast,” he said.

And he’s staying warm and sleeping at normal hours, too, thanks to some emergency maneuvers by his agent, Mac Barnhardt. The manager arranged for winter wear like Under Armour tops and long-sleeve rain jackets to be express-mailed, and they arrived Thursday night.

“It’s a good thing we didn’t have this (bad weather) day yesterday,” he said, “or I would have been in big trouble.”

Or shopping in the Turnberry pro shop.

“He didn’t ask anybody or think about it being like winter,” Barnhardt said. “Everything we take for granted over here he’s seeing for the first time. He had no long-sleeve rain jacket. It’s almost like Boo (Weekley, another client), not knowing what it’s like here the first time.”

The manager also helped Marino overcome a rookie mistake with regard to sleep. When Marino got off the charter Monday morning, he went to bed at 7 a.m. and slept for several hours. “A drastic mistake,” Barnhardt said.

Translation: His body clock out of kilter, Marino couldn’t go to sleep Monday night. He was up until 4 a.m. Tuesday. That day Barnhardt got him some sleeping pills to get him back in order.

“I think I’m finally getting the hang of things over here,” Marino said.

Not that Marino normally needs prescription pills to relax. He’s perhaps the most laid-back person in world golf. “If not on earth,” the agent said. Marino uses the word “dude” in many sentences. If he were any more relaxed, he’d be asleep or a flat-liner.

When not playing golf, Marino has played it safe here. He has stuck to pasta, steak and cheeseburgers for meals. He has turned down haggis and driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the car.

“I think that’s a bad idea,” he said. “I’m not going to do that.”

He was talking about driving. But the words work with regard to haggis.

As for golf, Marino says his best achievements to date were shooting 59 on the Gateway Tour in Arizona and getting through the 2006 Tour Q-School.

Let’s amend that for him and put “British Open lead” at the top. That said, 36 holes remain. He knows. And he has seen the pot bunkers and gorse and felt the wind and rain.

“I’ve seen some crazy things go on (watching on television in years past),” Marino said. “And I’ve got it in my head that some crazy things might happen to me, both good and bad.

As if they haven’t already.

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