Anti-Tigers seize spotlight for themselves

THE BALTIMORE SUN

BETHESDA -- They aren't Tiger Woods.

They aren't young, they aren't sleek, they aren't flashy, they don't have handlers and entourages.

Their fans don't shriek and swoon, their caddies aren't famous, their names aren't household words.

And they didn't crash in the third round of the U.S. Open yesterday at Congressional Country Club.

Jeff Maggert and Tom Lehman are about as different from Woods as a pair of golfers could get.

As different as perseverance is from instant stardom; as different as middle-age is from youth; as different as humility is from hubris.

Maggertmania?

Sounds like an extermination service.

Lehmania?

Isn't that a town on the German-Swiss border?

But the Open belongs to them, a pair of working man's golfers, and not to Woods.

It was supposed to serve as the setting for Woods' latest confirmation as a superstar and corporate icon, but he blew himself way, way down the leader board with four bogeys in his last five holes after a 123-minute rain delay late in the afternoon.

He was at 4-over, eight strokes behind Maggert's lead, when play was halted by darkness with the leaders still on the course.

Maggert was one stroke ahead of Lehman, a pair of anti-Tigers, Woods' opposites in almost every way.

Woods has won the Masters and four other tournaments in nine months as a professional, signed endorsement contracts worth $97 million and emerged as the Next Big Thing in all of sports at the age of 21.

Maggert, 33, has won one tournament in a decade on the PGA Tour, with a boost from Mickey Mouse.

Lehman, 39, played his way off the tour three times and was still a nobody on the minor-league circuits as recently as eight years ago.

Woods already has won as many major tournaments as the two %% of them combined, graced many more magazine covers and done more sit-downs with Barbara Walters.

Maggert and Lehman have more kids -- five between them, to Woods' zero -- but it's no fair keeping that score seeing as Woods is still a kid, too.

In any case, if Woods is the embodiment of soaring, '90s-style fame, Lehman and Maggert are the embodiment of grinding, middle-aged professionalism.

Lehman is by far the more accomplished, having bloomed late into one of the world's best golfers. He won the British Open and led the PGA Tour in earnings last year, a stunning accomplishment for someone who did so little for so long.

Before he discovered the secret to success, he played the Asian Tour, the South African Tour, the Dakotas Tour, the Golden State Tour, the South Florida Tour, the Carolinas Tour and, well, just about every other tour besides Lollapalooza.

It's hard to believe that was the same golfer as today's steady, bullish gamer who hits it long and straight, limits his mistakes and hasn't finished worse than 18th in a major tournament in 22 months.

He's so good now that he'll be an anchor on the U.S. Ryder Cup team later this year -- and yet, like a lot of career minor-leaguers who finally make it to the majors in baseball, he is still marked by his failures. Raised in Minnesota, he has an unassuming, neighborly demeanor, the antithesis of a superstar's strut.

When a fan shouted "Nice pants, Tom!" during Friday's round, Lehman smiled, planted a hand on his semi-ample rear and assumed a model's pose, as the crowd roared.

He has been one of the few golfers to challenge the hysteria surrounding Woods, and he backed up his comments by beating Woods by four strokes when they played together over the first 36 holes here.

He and Maggert were tied for the lead at 5-under yesterday when the rain hit, and Lehman, like Woods, also struggled after the delay, bogeying two holes. But, true to his steady nature, he gathered himself and made two pars before play was halted.

It would be a major surprise if he wasn't in the running on the final holes today.

Maggert has been in the running on the final day of numerous major tournaments, finishing in the top 10 in five. But he has never won one.

His only win on the PGA Tour, in fact, came in the 1993 Walt Disney World Classic, when he played 36 holes on Sunday and finished under floodlights brought in from Epcot or the Magic Kingdom or some such.

Not that he has struggled as badly as Lehman; he has earned more than $3.5 million during his career and finished in the top 25 in earnings in three of the past four years. He played well enough to make the Ryder Cup team in 1995, a major accomplishment.

Only four golfers other than Maggert and Lehman are still under par, and only one of the four, Scotland's Colin Montgomerie, has the aura of an Open winner.

Woods will need an all-time rally just to get back in contention, much less win.

He hasn't handled Congressional nearly as well as he did Augusta National; he was in the rough way too much yesterday and would have been farther behind if not for the grandstand behind the No. 10 green, which blocked his errant approach shot and dumped it on the green.

"I'll play four or five good holes, then I'll kind of lose it for a little bit," he said.

That's not what NBC or Nike wanted, but, hey, he's just 21 and this just isn't his Open.

It's an Open for the other guys, the Toms and Jeffs, the guys who have cranked it out for years.

The kinds of guys who should win on Father's Day.

Pub Date: 6/15/97 %%

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