POTOMAC -- One leader has worked through a stretch when he could barely see, the other when he could barely breathe.
Is it the Kemper Open, or the Red Cross Open?
D. A. Weibring and Mark Wiebe, two faceless veterans as familiar with the disabled list as they are the leader board, found themselves atop the board at the TPC at Avenel yesterday, when both shot 4-under-par 67s to move to 6-under at the midway point of the Kemper Open.
They'll be the final pairing in today's third round, but the focus is on the heavyweights immediately behind them. Among the group one stroke back, at 5-under, are Tom Lehman (69) and Greg Norman (71). The horde at 4-under includes Nick Price (72) and Nick Faldo, whose charging 65 was the low score of the first two rounds.
The rear-view mirror is crowded with others who have won major championships. Reigning U.S. Open champion Steve Jones (70) a quiet 3-under, and John Daly (70) is an attention-getting 2-under.
Wiebe? His last win on the PGA Tour came in 1986; the 39-year-old has been undone by allergies in recent years. Weibring got his fifth tour victory last year at the Greater Hartford Open, after two illnesses.
Weibring, 44, missed seven weeks early last season with walking pneumonia. He was preparing to play the Doral-Ryder Open when he was diagnosed with Bell's palsy, a virus that caused temporary paralysis on the right side of his face. He won at Hartford despite blurred vision.
"I haven't gotten fully rid of it yet," Weibring said of his Bell's palsy. "It takes away your energy from time to time. The doctors don't know how you get it, or how you get rid of it. It's just something I'm going to have to live with. There are certainly bigger challenges in life, but it had an effect on me last year."
Forty-fifth on the earnings list in 1996, Weibring spent a rainy Tuesday at the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville. He was four strokes off the cut.
Wiebe, who has had only five top-10 finishes since 1993, came out of the sectional qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, to earn a berth next week at Congressional Country Club. He has dealt with rain, wind and cold this week, but Wiebe hasn't enjoyed the great outdoors this much in years.
What is Wiebe allergic to?
"Trees and grass," he said. "My doctor thought that was a little funny. It's a little too late to change occupations."
Wiebe used to think that people who complained of allergies were "wimps." That was before he found it difficult to breathe, let alone hit out of the rough from 230 yards. Wiebe tried the holistic approach.
"I was taking 45 pills in the morning, 45 in the evening," he said. "Fish oil, vitamins, thyme. I was drinking tea that tasted like bark. It was a great diet, because you can't eat, but I'm glad it didn't work out, because I wanted to eat a burger once in a while."
Finally sickened more by his allergies than his aversion to needles, Wiebe eventually took the advice of other allergy sufferers like Steve Elkington and Peter Jacobsen. He started weekly allergy shots six weeks ago. He's rebuilding his game, and still has to think his way through his swing.
"I'm a long way from being able to do the deal, I still have a checklist I have to go through," Wiebe said. "I'm in an occupation where the guy with the keenest mind is going to win. If you're coughing and sneezing, you've got problems."
Wiebe had four birdies and no bogeys, and Weibring continued his roller-coaster ride at Avenel with two bogeys, four birdies and an eagle on No. 14, the 301-yard par-4. Wiebe said that the bent-grass greens have been overrun in spots by Poa annua, and that the players have taken to calling them "oil slicks," but the putting surfaces suited Faldo just fine.
"I played well, putted well," Faldo said of his 65. "It was nice to create some chances. Holing putts makes all the difference. This is how I feel I should be playing."
Faldo was still 1-over for the tournament through seven holes, but birdied five of his last 11 holes, and three of his last six. He started on No. 10 with Norman and Scott McCarron, and the charge began with a long putt on No. 17, a 195-yard par-3.
"On 15 and 16, I missed birdie putts that were pretty good chances," Faldo said. "Then on 17, I made a 45-footer with a 6-foot break. It went in so perfectly, you say, 'Oh, yeah, that was easy.' Can't make the straight ones though."
D. A. Weibring 69-67136
Mark Wiebe 69-67136
and selected followers
Greg Norman 66-71137 Tom Lehman 68-69137 Omar Uresti 68-69137 John Morse 69-68137 Nick Faldo 73-65138 Nick Price 66-72138 Complete scores, 4C
Pub Date: 6/07/97