Brooks was so good there was no fun


POTOMAC -- Saturday is referred to as "moving day" on the PGA Tour, golfers making their moves up, down, sideways, backward and out. It's probably the best day a tournament has to offer in the crowd appeal department. At least it was at the Kemper Open at Avenel.

Oh sure, there was rock-steady Mark Brooks, the man who grabbed the lead by 9 a.m. last Thursday and rarely let go over the next 80 hours, picking up the victory and a huge check yesterday. But he did it with computer-like precision: no pizzazz. Pars, pars and more pars, forget the adventure.

Now the third round, that's where all the noise lay. Two guys, Scott Hoch and Bob May, had a pair of eagles apiece. Hoch's round was like watching the links version of "The Perils of Pauline." Four pars is all he had to go with the eagles, six birdies and six bogeys.

Guys were doing wondrous things all over the place as appreciative crowds, getting to the point where they've become too numerous to count accurately, didn't know where to direct their attention.

Lee Janzen, who hadn't been heard from since winning the U.S. Open last year, had a 68 with a bogey on the last hole and followed with a 66 yesterday. Phil Mickelson, a hole-in-one being part of his round of 69 Friday, starting knocking down the sticks with nearly every approach shot, going 67-69 the last two days.

Howard Twitty's contribution consisted of a hole in which his ball never came to rest on fairway or green but he wrote down a par anyway: trap, trap, rough, chip in. Sure, some of the Zoysia grass fairways are burned beyond recall, Howard, but that was ridiculous.

Kelly Gibson, who fell out of the gate with an opening-round 75, went for nine birdies in 11 holes the next day, then returned to par despite an eagle. "How many people," he wanted to know, "can say they missed a two-foot putt, put a ball in the water and shot 64?"

One of the things missing on the weekend, though, was Virginia driving range pro Jeff Wagner, who qualified by shooting a 69, but then fell victim to the pressure of the situation and playing with the big boys. His two rounds of 89 and 86 were embarrassing enough, but CBS went out of its way to ridicule the kid during its Friday coverage seen on USA cable.

How clever was it for the network to put up a graphic that read that Wagner was two dozen strokes over par, one shot behind Ray Charles?

Bill Andrade, who won this tournament with a magnificent 22-under par three years ago, won the pro-am with a 65 before shooting 78 and 74 and waving bye-bye. Others joining him in the exodus to the airport were former winners Tom Kite, Gil Morgan and Tom Byrum, plus scads of others accustomed to playing the full 72 holes each week.

Brooks, who hadn't won since 1991 but notes "I've been playing too well the last four or five weeks to take time off," grabbed this one by the throat almost as soon as the bell rang. With an 8 a.m. tee time the first time and with a gallery checking out every move of playing partners John Daly and Mickelson, Mark was dropping birdie putts hither and yon. At one point during the second round Friday, they were thinking about putting the "slaughter rule" into effect as he was 12 under par and free and clear by seven strokes.

If it wasn't for problems with Avenel's back nine and a valiant if somewhat unexpected charge by Bobby Wadkins, Brooks could have told his wife Cynthia to go out and start spending the money.

With a 67 and a 65 following his opening 68, Wadkins grabbed the lead over the last few holes Saturday, meaning he would be paired with Brooks again in yesterday's final. Two decades Bobby has been out on tour with nary a win but weep not: He has cashed checks worth in excess of $2 million and consider the travel and healthy lifestyle.

Mark Brooks' game plan for the final was simple: Don't worry about Wadkins at the start, "just don't go back too far [lose strokes to par] and let too many guys back into the game. You can't win with a 75 on Sunday."

Which was just about what Wadkins ended up doing (74) as he suffered through a disastrous triple-bogey 8 on a hole the pros usual count on to make birdie. Amazingly, Bobby whacked an approach that hit a tree and headed for the woods and, despite the fact a couple hundred people looked for the ball, it was never found. His next shot hit a tree again and fell in a trap and, well, you get the picture.

From a stroke down to two ahead and with no one making much of a move, Brooks put it on par control and started grinding. All told, he had 16 pars and one birdie before finishing with a flourish (canning a 12-foot birdie putt) and thinking ahead to today . . . when he plays 36 holes of golf at Woodmont and Congressional country clubs to grab one of the 34 qualifying spots for the U.S. Open in Pittsburgh in 10 days.

It's not all successful shots and big paychecks, gang.

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