Carefree Duval returns to U.S. Open

COLUMBUS, Ohio – As the scores went up and the cut line kept moving, David Duval stood beneath a tree, a quiet presence among a noisy crowd.

Was it tougher to watch the board than it had been to play 36 holes of golf in this U.S. Open qualifier?

Duval smiled and shrugged. “It’s part of the deal. You just wait,” he said.

If he were focused on his scores – 66-69 for a 9-under 135 – it was difficult to tell. No, not because the famous shades were pulled down tight; they were pushed back on his head. It’s because he was lighthearted and exchanging laughs.

Duval had played both Brookside CC and The Lakes blind, using a simple philosophy: Hit a lot of greens, play aggressively only when the situation dictated. Mission accomplished.

“I hit 34 greens,” Duval said, “and my three bogeys were all three-putts.”

As a warm afternoon melted into twilight, the scores were made final. Duval had finished in a logjam in 10th place, but on this day, in this format, that meant victory. He had qualified to return to the U.S. Open for the first time since 2006, the year his five-year exemption as 2001 British Open champ expired.

It was suggested that it had been a long and grueling day, coming off of a long and grueling 72-hole Memorial Tournament, but Duval said no.

“Look at the other side of it,” he said. “You don’t have much of a chance to win (the U.S. Open) if you don’t tee it up.”

• • •

When the scores at Brookside CC were posted, the cut at 8 under produced that most agonizing situation: A 9-for-1 playoff. It began at 7:45 p.m. and included John Senden, Dean Wilson, Brett Quigley, Chris DiMarco, Steve Marino, John Rollins, James Nitties, and Fredrik Jacobson – all of them PGA Tour members – and Matt Donovoan, an unheralded pro from Pittsfield, Mass.

And the winner was . . . Nitties, the rookie from Australia. He birdied the first hole, as did Senden and Wilson. At the second playoff hole, Brookside’s par-4 ninth, Nitties rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt.

“Then my heart was pumping when John putted,” Nitties said.

But Senden rolled his putt wide and settled for first alternate. Wilson, who missed the green and made bogey, will be second alternate.

• • •

Stunning names that sat below the cut? None more so than Davis Love III, who just one day earlier had threatened to win the Memorial Tournament. Trying to match his success at British Open qualifying last month, Love could manage only an afternoon 69 at the softer Lakes Course where the field average was 69.83. Having shot 69 at Brookside in the morning, Love tied for 30th at 6 under and saw his streak of 18 consecutive U.S. Opens come to a halt.

Love’s playing competitor and fellow Sea Islander, Jonathan Byrd (72-71), also missed out, as did Charles Howell III (71-67), Charley Hoffman (69-69), Lee Janzen (68-72), Bill Haas (69-72), and Kevin Streetman, who shot 66 at the Lakes, but 71 at Brookside.

Another casualty was Jose Maria Olazabal. “Nothing to talk about,” the Spaniard said after rounds of 70-71.

Mark Wilson, who made a spirited run at the Memorial, finished at 7 under and missed.

The other surprise player at Nicklaus’ event, Matt Bettencourt, continued his stellar play. He shot the lowest score at Brookside, 64, and breezed in at 9 under.

• • •

Ohio continues to be good to Kyle Stanley, the Ben Hogan Award winner from Gig Harbor, Wash. Two weeks ago he finished second at the NCAA Championships in Toldeo; Monday he fired the day’s low round, a 62, at The Lakes, and wound up sharing medalist honors with PGA Tour player George McNeill.

Both players posted 12-under 132.

Through a mutual friend in Hilton Head Island, S.C., Stanley was merged with one of the PGA Tour’s best caddies, Fred Sanders, who has enjoyed quite a ride in recent years with Kenny Perry.

“I can’t put into words what it means for me having Fred on the bag,” Stanley said.

Having already left Clemson after his junior year, Stanley will play as a professional in the Travelers Championship, the week after the U.S. Open. Because he earned an exemption through local qualifier because of his 2007 Walker Cup spot, Stanley is keeping his amateur status for Bethpage Black.

“He’s a good player, a real nice kid,” Sanders said. “He hits it where I ask him to.”

Stanley said at one point, Sanders told him on the tee that they’d have 168 yards for their approach. “So I drive it and we walk out there – and we’ve got 168,” Stanley said.

Stanley also qualified for the 2008 U.S. Open out of Columbus.

• • •

Stanley wasn’t the only collegiate star to advance. Oklahoma State’s Rickie Fowler made it for the second year in a row.

“I hit every fairway, but only hit 11 greens this morning (at The Lakes),” Fowler said, explaining his round of 70 at the easier of the two courses. As for the afternoon 65 at Brookside, Fowler simply rolled in seven birdie putts.

As for college golf’s other standouts, it was a long, frustrating day. Morgan Hoffmann (72-70) and NCAA champion Matt Hill (73-70) both missed the cut.

“I need a break,” said Hoffmann, who said he’d skip next week’s British Amateur and wait for the Northeast Amateur.

As for Hill, who seemingly hasn’t lost a tournament in months, he said he’d head for the British Amateur Thursday. “That will give me four days to adjust and get ready,” said the North Carolina State standout from Canada.

• • •

SHORT SHOTS: Having lost his spot in the U.S. Open by turning pro, last year’s U.S. Amateur winner, Danny Lee, didn’t earn one the hard way. He shot 69-73 and never was close. “I’m going to take two weeks off, then play the Travelers (Championship). I’ve got to practice harder and do better,” Lee said. . . . No surprise to see 14 PGA Tour names dominate the list of 17 who advanced - Lucas Glover (63-70), Bo Van Pelt (65-68), and Ben Crane (67-68) among them – but it was stunning to see the name tied for third place. James Kamte, 26, is an unheralded South African who was here in the area on a sponsor’s exemption into the Memorial. He shot 68 at Brookside, then blitzed The Lakes in 65 . . . . The British Amateur at Formby Golf Club in Merseyside, England, was also on the mind of Reinier Saxton. The reigning champion had planned on skipping the British Amateur had he made the U.S. Open, but with rounds of 72-71 he can start thinking about a back-to-back effort . . . . Former U.S. Junior Amateur champ Cory Whitsett opened with a 67 at Brookside, but shot 70 at The Lakes and failed to advance . . . . As is customary, there were plenty of withdrawals by the PGA Tour guys after pedestrian opening rounds. Mathew Goggin, Woody Austin, Ted Purdy, Nick O’Hern, Robert Garrigus, and Joe Ogilvie all played 18, then quit. So, too, did Steve Lowry, though it appears his might have been health-related, given that he opened with a 69.

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