Hammond shares lead - for 20 minutes


PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Donnie Hammond knows what it's like to be the very early leader in a major golf tournament. In the 1986 British Open at Turnberry, Hammond had a three-shot lead after two holes.

"I remember going to the 18th hole on Sunday at 19-over-par, and I told my caddie, 'I guess we let it get away,' " Hammond recalled with a laugh. "Then I bogeyed the last hole to finish 20-over."

So yesterday, Hammond didn't get too excited when he found himself 3-under after 12 holes and, for about 20 minutes, sharing the opening-round lead in the 92nd U.S. Open.

"You're going to see a lot of guys get to 2- or 3-under on the front and then hang on," said Hammond, who grew up in Frederick and now lives in Orlando, Fla.

Hammond couldn't. Errant drives on four of the next five holes led to bogeys and Hammond finished his first round at Pebble with a 1-over-par 73. He was a bit disappointed, but not distraught.

Truth be known, Hammond is happy just to be playing at the Open. Three months ago, Hammond badly sprained his right ankle playing basketball and was sidelined for two months.

The ankle injury came a few months after Hammond had to regain his tour card at the PGA's Qualifying School. It was a long, hard fall from 1989, Hammond's best season since he came on tour in 1983. He was ranked 20th in earnings with $458,751.

"He fancied himself to be another Michael Jordan," Phil Ritson, Hammond's Scottish-born, Orlando-based coach, said of the basketball injury. "But he seems to be playing a lot better. He's really hitting the ball well."

Hammond, 35, had an encouraging 11th-place tie when he returned to the tour at last month's GTE Byron Nelson in Dallas and three good rounds last week in Memphis. And he had chances to put up a low number yesterday.

Birdies at Nos. 1, 3 and 8 put Hammond at 3-under, but he three-putted from 30 feet at the par-5 sixth hole and missed putts within eight feet at Nos. 9 and 10. He left a 12-footer on No. 15 hanging on the left edge.

"We had a perfect opportunity out there today," said Hammond, alluding to the lack of wind and the rain-softened greens. "I should have saved a little energy for the last six holes."

Tour regular Fred Funk, the former University of Maryland golf coach from Laurel, also ran out of gas and into trouble late in yesterday's round. It was an adventuresome round that included five birdies, two bogeys and a triple bogey, adding up to even-par 72.

After starting out with birdies on the first two holes, Funk triple-bogeyed the par-3 fifth hole when his ball hung on the lip of a bunker and his next shot spun back into the sand. He recovered with a birdie on the next hole, got it back to 2-under with birdies at 13 and 14, but bogeyed two of the last three holes.

"It's a little disappointing because I hit the ball so well off the tee," said Funk, who has missed the cut in his last four Opens. "It's not too often that you can have two bogeys and a triple-bogey and still finish even-par in the U.S. Open."

Webb Heintzelman, the Hogan Tour player from Cabin John, Md., had problems on the last 11 holes. One-under going into No. 8, a triple bogey on the tough par-4 started the free fall. By the time he finished, Heintzelman was 9-over 81.

* Defending champion Payne Stewart got off to a fast start, going 4-under through the first eight holes before sliding back to a 1-over 73. He did, however, get some momentum with a birdie on the final hole.

"I was telling myself, 'Now you're the past champion. You have to go out and prove you can be a champion again,' " said Stewart, who hasn't won since last year's 18-hole playoff victory over Scott Simpson at Hazeltine. "Golfers are never satisfied. I'm not satisfied with 73 at all."

* The U.S. Open usually attracts all kinds of celebrities, but yesterday's opening round brought one person you wouldn't expect seeing: Dottie Mochrie, the leading money-winner on this year's LPGA Tour.

Mochrie is taking a couple of weeks off from her regular job and came out to do an outing and follow around Dan Forsman, her partner from a mixed-tour event. It was her first visit to a U.S. Open since she turned pro.

I played here (Pebble Beach) in college and I've always wanted to come back"she said.

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