SAN FRANCISCO -- Tom Lehman will play in the last twosome of the day in the final round of the U.S. Open for the fourth straight year when he tees off today at the Olympic Club. But for the first time, Lehman will not have either a share or sole possession of the lead.
"The pressure will finally be on the other guy," Lehman said after climbing into contention with a 2-under-par 68 to move him within four shots of third-round leader Payne Stewart. "It's something a little different. Maybe it's better for me."
Considering that Lehman has always faltered in the final round after tearing it up in the third round, chasing Stewart might be better than being chased as he was last year by Ernie Els at Congressional, by Steve Jones two years ago at Oakland Hills and by Corey Pavin in 1995 at Shinnecock Hills.
His performance yesterday came after Lehman shot a 5-over-par 75 on Friday and walked off the course steaming-mad after 4-putting the 18th green for double-bogey. He was the first of several players to criticize the pin position on the hole, for which the USGA admitted fault.
"I walked off the 18th green needing to take somebody's head off," said Lehman. "I walked off today extremely happy. It was a good day."
It started out to be a great day for the former British Open champion, with birdies on the first three holes. But Lehman bogeyed the next three before making his comeback on the back nine with birdies on the par-4 14th and on the 18th.
"Making that birdie felt great after what happened [Friday]," he said.
Who's driving whom?
The relative shortness and obvious tightness of the Lake Course at the Olympic Club have forced many long hitters to put away their drivers this week. It's not as much a case of gripping and ripping it as zipping it.
"I loved Congressional last year when we could hit 10 or 11 drivers, but here I can hit it only three times," said Nick Price. At 6,797 yards, Olympic is the shortest course in the Open rotation since Merion was last used in 1981. But with the way the fairways are contoured, with severe slopes running toward Lake Merced, it's difficult to control the driver.
"What's interesting to me is that the USGA talks about upholding the history of the game and keep the game being played the way it was years ago, yet they set up the course so you can't use driver," said Phil Mickelson.
Balancing the cut
Rocky Walcher was the most powerful man on the grounds of the Olympic Club as he went to the 18th tee late Friday night. In his hands, the 36-year-old Nike Tour player held the fate of 15 other players.
Walcher needed a par for an even-par 70 for a two-round total of 7-over 147. Since the cut was made at top 60 and ties, a bogey would bring those players back for the weekend.
He made par, knocking out a group that included former champions Corey Pavin, Hale Irwin and Tom Watson.
"It's kind of sad, but it's happened to me before," said Walcher, ranked 17th this year on the Nike Tour. "I've been beaten out, maybe not in a tournament of this size, but I've been sitting there and missed the cut. I feel sorry for them, but these things balance out."
Perhaps the player who evoked the most sympathy was Paul Simson, a 47-year-old amateur from Raleigh, N.C. He missed the cut by one shot, and might have made it had it not been for a triple-bogey in Thursday's opening round.
Simson's tee shot on the 10th hole hit a tree and fell into a thick patch of rough. He couldn't find it, but a spectator said another spectator took the ball and ran off. The USGA couldn't verify if the account was accurate, so the triple-bogey stood.
"Some information came to light later in the day that might have verified it," USGA vice-president Trey Holland said yesterday. "It's an unfortunate situation."
For those who think a golf story wouldn't be complete without mention of Tiger Woods, here goes. The former Masters champion played respectably yesterday with a 1-over-par 71, but he is now at 7-over par and 10 shots out of the lead.
Can he still win?
"It all depends if I can put it all together, get a few breaks," said Woods, who came from eight back to beat Els in a tournament in Jamaica earlier this year.
Despite two double-bogeys on the back nine, Casey Martin also had three birdies and finished at 4-over 74. The 26-year-old Nike Tour player, the first to use a cart in competition at the Open, is at 9-over-par 149. Chris Perry made a hole-in-one yesterday, on the 186-yard 13th.
Pub Date: 6/21/98