U.S. Open: Here come the big boys…can Barnes or Glover hold on?

June 22, 2009 | Drew Forrester

As day five dawns at the ’09 U.S. Open, a host of possibilities exist and almost all of them include something magical happening at Bethpage Black.

In fact, the magic is slowly starting to fade from Ricky Barnes’ game, as the guy who once led this event at -11 has now slipped all the way back to -7 and was saved from further Sunday misery by darkness.  And with Barnes coming back to the pack, it’s once again become an exciting golf tournament.

Barnes and Lucas Glover shared the overnight lead at -7, but Ricky is staring a sunrise bogey in the face after pull hooking his tee shot into the tall grass on the 2nd hole just before the horn blew to end play on Sunday night.  He would have slept a lot better if his ball would have come to rest in the fairway, that’s for sure.  While Barnes was starting to wobble late in the day on Sunday, Glover was content to continue making pars and the occasional birdie when his laser-like iron play would accomodate.  

The fact that the horn blew at 7:59 pm last night might have helped Barnes, who was the subject of a half-dozen slo-mo swing reviews on Sunday as Johnny Miller and crew pointed out how his golf swing was starting to betray him.  Sure enough, another bad swing haunted him at the final hole of the evening, as he hit a wicked left-to-left shot on #2 tee.  His poor shots on the back nine in round #3 and on #2 tee in the 4th round should be proof positive (to him and his coach) that they need to take a quick peek at his swing on the range tomorrow morning.  

Meanwhile, I pronounced Tiger “done” in Sunday’s blog that followed the completion of round #3.  I put Tiger in “can’t do” territory — as in, he can’t do it…he can’t come back from a 9-stroke deficit in the final round to win the U.S. Open.

Consider this a retraction of sorts.

I am not here to say Tiger’s going to come back.  For the record, I have a weird feeling Mickelson and Glover are going to play off on Tuesday at -6.   But Woods is now at even-par heading to the 8th hole and even though Barnes and Glover are 7 large shots ahead, it’s no longer about the deficit if you’re Woods (or any of the guys looking up the leaderboard at the two leaders).

Monday is about posting a score.  That’s it. 

Get in the house with SOMETHING and then see what happens from there.

And we all know what happens when Tiger puts it in overdrive and litters the course with birdies and roars.  Folks have a tendency to crumble around him.  

So if you’re Tiger, now, your game-plan is simple.  Get to -1 heading to the back nine.  Take advantage of the short 11th hole and try to make a birdie – or eagle – at the par 5 13th.  It then become a 5-hole race to the clubhouse and you try to hit fairways and greens and see if the golf gods really do love you.  If Tiger gets to -5 and posts that score 90 minutes or so before the leaders reach the beginning of the back nine, you could see some crazy stuff happen on Monday afternoon.  

The same “plan”, of course, goes for guys like Mickelson, Duval, Weir and even major-less hotshots like Sean O’Hair and Bubba Watson.  

That said, none of those guys above have the ability to make the rest of the field blow a gasket and leak oil like Woods does.

And — It wouldn’t be a total shock to see both Barnes and Glover throw up a big number on Monday.  I don’t think they both will (see “for the record” above…I think Glover will handle the heat well), but it’s entirely possible to see one or both of them hang a 77 on the board and shoot themselves into a T9.  

Of the two, Glover has played the best through 3 rounds and has the TOUR experience that Barnes lacks.  Glover leads the field in birdies on the par 4 holes (the strength of Bethpage Black) and he has played the final stretch of holes, 13 through 18, in five under-par through 54 holes.  He’ll need that kind of finish today.

Barnes, meanwhile, has a bag full of things working against him.  First, this is foreign territory for him, this “overnight lead” thing.  This is pressure unlike anything he’s ever dealt with as a golfer.  Yeah, he won the U.S. Amateur back in 2002, but as John Cook (a former U.S. Amateur champ) was once told by Orville Moody, “amateur golf don’t mean sh*t”.  In other words, you don’t know nothin’ about nothin’ until you have a putt in front of you for $180,000.  Second, Ricky Barnes is the worst putter on the PGA Tour based on the statistics — 192 out of 192.  And those stats don’t lie.  You make a lot of putts, your stats are good.  You miss a lot of putts, your stats are bad.  Statistically speaking, Barnes isn’t a good putter.  He’s made a few and missed a few at Bethpage over the last four days, but a bettin’ man would wager he’ll miss more than he’ll make when the heat is on throughout the day on Monday.  Third, that forward-lunge move through the golf ball that has become Johnny Miller’s personal whipping post has already led to several shaky, costly swings.  Unless that gets fixed overnight, there’s a double bogey just waiting to happen somewhere along the way Monday.

I’m not rooting AGAINST Barnes.  I think it would be a helluva story if he wins.  I just don’t give him much of a chance.  Then again, no one gave Tin Cup much of a chance either.  Oh, that’s right, he didn’t win. 

The two kids on the lead, sleeping on the fact that the U.S. Open championship is within their grasp.  The once-great Duval, trying to fulfill his own promise to everyone that he’s still going to win major championships despite not winning an event since Bush was in his first term.  Mickelson and his wife Amy — involved in a very public fight with a hideous disease — are 3,000 miles apart but each producing a courageous battle in their own right.  And then, there’s Tiger, scraping it around for three days and displaying perhaps the balkiest of balky putters we’ve seen from him in a major since failing to win at Augusta in ’07 — and still having a puncher’s chance as Monday dawns and his name, for the first time all week, is suddenly visible on the leaderboard as a reminder to those who are playing well that they’re going to have to work hard to take that trophy away from him.   

It’s going to be a wild Monday on Long Island.  

After four days of golf and a fifth on the horizon – and possibly a 6th if a playoff is needed – would it be a total shock if something totally off the planet happened like Woods and Mickelson somehow wind up playing off on Tuesday?  Or how about Duval winning on the final hole later today?  

For the first four days, I thought the weather had basically wrecked the golf tournament.  It wasn’t quite the bore-fest that ’03 was when Jim Furyk won at the non-descript Olympia Fields CC, but the rain delays, start and stop routines and soft greens made for a not-so-typical U.S. Open.  When Ricky Barnes rolled that 20-footer in for eagle at #4 to go to -11 on Sunday afternoon, I went out to mow the lawn.  It really DID look like a walk in the (Bethpage) State Park at that point.

Now, with the typical demons starting to swirl and the masters of their craft starting to rev it up, we’re set for perhaps one of the most exciting final rounds in U.S. Open history.  

They say nothing could match the ’08 Open at Torrey Pines when Woods hobbled around on one leg and needed 19 playoff holes to dispose of pesky Rocco Mediate.  

Today’s final round could give ’08 a run for its money.

It all depends on Ricky Barnes and Lucas Glover.

They can make it a race — between themselves…or the rest of the field.