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40 on back-nine bursts Maggert's hopes Els' parents on hand to celebrate his victory; U.S. OPEN

THE BALTIMORE SUN

BETHESDA -- It was easy for Jeff Maggert, or anyone else, for that matter, to pinpoint his 97th U.S. Open downfall.

He had started the last round in a tie with Ernie Els, two strokes back of leader Tom Lehman, then became the first to free-fall out of the four-man dogfight that emerged on the back nine at Congressional Country Club.

Maggert, who wound up shooting 74 to finish fourth at 1-over-par 281, three-putted No. 13, missing a five-footer; bogeyed the 16th from green-side rough; made a double bogey with another three-putt at the 17th; then, to top it off, bogeyed the 18th.

"I played well this week, but the back nine was my downfall," he said. "It was just a tough series of holes, and a really tough championship. This wasn't the type of course you could come in making a lot of birdies. Everyone had to grind it out just to get good chances.

"I was good with the putter all week, especially on the front nine today. On the back side, I thought I was hitting them where I wanted, but they just weren't going in for me." His final round was 34-40.

"No. 16 was kind of tough. It was a make-or-break putt for par, that I thought was going to break right, but it never turned. I was looking at the scoreboard, and knew I had to come in birdie-birdie.

"I tried to play it safe on 17, and ended up pushing my shot," said the 33-year-old Missouri native now living outside of Houston, tying for his best Open showing in seven starts. "I needed to hit a good chip to give it a run. I didn't want to leave it short, because I had to give myself the chance to make it.

"However, Ernie had hit his first putt at 18 [just across a pond from the 17th green], so I ended up losing concentration. I slapped a few putts around, and that was basically it."

Maggert had tied for fourth with 284 at Shinnecock Hills two years ago.

Family affair

What would a U.S. Open be without a Father's Day angle? This one, though, belonged not to the champion, Els, but to his father and grandfather.

Cornelius Els -- or Neels (pronounced Nels) to his friends -- and his wife, Hettie, weren't at Oakmont in 1994 for their son's first Open victory. But they wouldn't miss his second.

"I just wanted to be here," said the elder Els. "I knew it was going to be very difficult for him, and the course is very good, but we felt good about his chances."

But it was his 89-year-old grandfather that Ernie Els mentioned prominently in his victory speech, and whom he called Saturday night after his round.

"My grandfather has always been a big part of my life, a major part of my life," said Els, who was named after his maternal grandfather, Theodore Ernest Verbaat. "If it wasn't for my grandfather, I probably wouldn't have played because he got my father involved. We got him a satellite television and I knew he was going to watch it."

Father's Day, however, is not celebrated in South Africa.

Locally speaking

Fred Funk called his putting, "a horror," but was able to shrug off two double bogeys in a closing round of 5-over-par 75 and a 72-hole total of 290. Frederick native Donnie Hammond had two bogeys and two doubles on the front nine, finally settled down to play the last six holes even for 79--301.

"I doubled two and then hung in there," said Funk, a College Park native. A birdie at the ninth got one back, but he had a birdie and three bogeys through the 17th, before ending on a sour note with a double bogey at the par-3 No. 18.

"I went for the flag and pulled it," he said of the tee shot that got him in trouble at the last hole.

He played in the pairing just ahead of Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo, but said he and Frank Nobilo were not bothered by the galleries waiting for that next group.

"Really, that's the most fun I've had with galleries without being in the last group," said Funk. "And there were a lot of friends. It was neat."

As one of the straight drivers on tour (he has been first in that tour statistic the past two years), it was not surprising he would say, "If we played under these conditions every week, I'd love it."

With or without Open conditions, he will have to do something about that putting. For the four rounds, he hit 82 percent of the fairways, 70 percent of the greens in regulation, but averaged 33 putts a round.

"I had a great Masters, except I was one of the last in putting. Now, I play really good at the Open, and I'm probably near the bottom in putting."

Then shaking his head, he added, "And I don't know what to do about it."

Funk will play at Westchester (N.Y.) Country Club this week, take two weeks off and then go overseas for the Scottish Open and the British Open.

Good viewing

Colin Montgomerie, who seemingly has done everything possible to win a U.S. Open without doing so, said he had never been involved in such an intense struggle as the four-man charge down the back nine.

"If must have been great to watch if you weren't involved," said the Scotsman, the crushing disappointment written all over his face.

Perfect weather, finally

The final round was played in picture-perfect weather, with a cloudless blue sky, and mild temperatures. It was a dramatic change from earlier days not only in this event, but at least three of the past championships held over the River Road course.

The heat and humidity of the 1964 Open won by Ken Venturi have been well-documented. In the 1976 PGA, rain interrupted the first three rounds to the point where, for the first time in PGA Championship history, the final round was held on Monday. At the U.S. Senior Open two years ago, it was cloudy and very humid. The third round was suspended for nearly four hours, and 10 players had to complete third rounds early Sunday ahead of the final.

Advice for Tiger

After Woods ignored the media following his ordinary opening 74 Thursday, Jack Nicklaus was asked if he ever did that as a young deity.

"I don't think I ever didn't stop to talk," Nicklaus said. "It flatters me that you're interested. He's young and he'll come to realize that you guys can make or break him in so many ways. He'll grow. Don't be too hard on him."

Nicklaus recalled that when he was defending U.S. Open champion in 1963 he shot an opening 76 and spent an hour in the locker room talking to the press.

"I found out you were just as interested in my thoughts as to why I played poorly as when I played well," Nicklaus said.

Pub Date: 6/16/97

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