Gogel climbs out of pack at Booz Allen


BETHESDA - The most exposure Matt Gogel has received in his first five years on the PGA Tour came during a high-profile tournament that he seemed to have won, and later lost, while doing little wrong.

Fans still remind him of the day at the 2000 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am when Gogel, then a rookie, watched Tiger Woods make an eagle and two birdies on the last four holes to win.

"I guess that's the star power of Tiger," Gogel said yesterday. "I still think they probably remember the fact that I won in 2002 [at Pebble Beach] more than what happened in 2000. [Or] they are avid golf fans and ... they have nothing better to do than follow a guy way down the money list."

Gogel, who came into this week's $5 million Booz Allen Classic ranked 170th in earnings this year, might get a little more attention if he continues to play as he did yesterday, when he broke the record on Congressional Country Club's Blue Course with an 8-under-par 63.

It gave Gogel a three-stroke lead over Lee Westwood of England, Fredrik Jacobson of Sweden and former Nationwide Tour player Brett Wetterich. Kevin Stadler, whose father Craig won the Kemper Open here in 1981 and 1982, was also at 5-under through 14 holes when play was called due to dangerous weather at 6:20 p.m.

As Gogel did in nearly beating Woods, who came from seven shots behind with seven holes to play to win, yesterday's round came out of nowhere for a player who had missed the cut in nine of the 13 events he played in this year.

"I kind of really hit rock bottom a month and a half ago," said Gogel, now 34.

"I just had the most disappointing year I've ever had in professional golf. So it's finally kind of turned around. I'm getting some confidence. Good scores is what I think breeds confidence."

This week didn't start off too well, either, when Gogel missed qualifying for next week's U.S. Open at Pinehurst, N.C. That changed dramatically yesterday, when after being the first group out on the 10th tee and making five straight pars, Gogel birdied six of the next eight holes.

"The course is in absolutely perfect shape," said Gogel, who later added two more birdies to post the second-best score of his career. "The condition of the golf course is no wind, soft fairways, so scores are going to be pretty low."

The course didn't come close to resembling the monster they played here at the U.S. Open eight years ago. Aside from increasing par from 70 to 71 on the 7,254-yard course, the rough was at least an inch shorter than the way the USGA likes it. The result was 59 of the 156 players in the field finished under par or were under par when play was suspended.

"For the U.S. Open, somehow, someway, those greens would have not been that tough," said Gogel, who missed the cut in the 1997 Open. "And that's the major difference. When they become so firm, it just becomes tough."

One thing is apparent: While the scores were similar to those shot at Avenel, the TPC course nearby where this tournament was played mostly as the Kemper Open since 1987, so was the leader board, which lacked big names close to the top.

The one exception was former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk, who was one of six to shoot 4-under 67 and defending champion Adam Scott, who shot 68. Former Kemper Open and British Open champion Justin Leonard finished with 69, as did former PGA champion Davis Love III.

Three-time major champion Ernie Els of South Africa, who won his second U.S. Open here in 1997, was at 2-under through 17 holes when play was called. His countryman, reigning Open champion Retief Goosen, finished at 1-under par.

Like Gogel, Vijay Singh had the benefit of a fairly early tee time, but the three-time major champion and world's No. 1 player could only manage an even-par 71. Former Masters champion Phil Mickelson, ranked right behind Els in the world rankings, also shot even par.

Asked about the dearth of star power near the lead, Jacobson summed it up succinctly.

"First day," he said. "Take another look on Sunday."

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