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Allenby's 65 gives him upper hand in Bethesda


BETHESDA - If Congressional Country Club truly embodies the nickname Ernie Els gave it Tuesday, then "The Beast" is being tamed.

Seventy of the 156 golfers who descended upon the tradition-laden golf course here to take part in the $5 million Booz Allen Classic shot 1-under par or better to make the cut yesterday and advance to the third round.

Four-time PGA Tour winner Robert Allenby set the torrid pace with a 6-under 65 for a two-day total of 9-under 133. Four players - defending champion Adam Scott, first-round leader Matt Gogel, Steve Elkington and Lee Westwood - are two strokes back at 7-under 135.

Never before has the Blue Course, which is playing at par 71 and 7,232 yards, been this generous. When Congressional played host to what was then called the Kemper Open from 1980 to 1986, the lowest score for the cut was at 2-over-par 146 in 1986. The average over that seven-year period was 5-over.

The cut at the 1997 and 1964 U.S. Opens at Congressional was at 7-over 147 and 13-over 223 (after 54 holes), respectively. The cut at the 1976 PGA Championship was at 9-over 149, while the cut at the 1995 U.S. Senior Open was at 6-over 150.

"Yeah, it's hard to believe after having the U.S. Open here," said Allenby, who missed the cut at the Open in 1997 with a score of 10-over-par 150. "We're playing a totally different golf course today. The golf course is soft, the rough is probably only 3 inches thick, and the greens are really soft."

Added world No. 1 Vijay Singh: "Congressional is not really playing like Congressional."

Weather and technology have played a role in the lower scores. Thunderstorms touched off by humid conditions have soaked the greens, making them softer and more receptive. Wind, which would normally dry out the course, has been nonexistent.

Newer clubs and balls have taken a beating on the course, too. Whereas golfers who visited Congressional in the earlier years found themselves using driver-long iron to reach the greens, today's generation of golfers is going driver-wedge for scoring opportunities.

Allenby, for instance, had a second shot from less than 150 yards on seven of the course's 11 par-4s. On six of those par-4s, he attempted birdie putts of less than 10 feet.

Allenby's performance is somewhat surprising considering that the 33-year-old Australian has missed the cut in four of his past eight tournaments (seven times total this season) and finished in the top 15 just three times.

Allenby, who was ranked 16th in the world at the end of last year, has dropped to 57th in part because of inflammation in both of his hands that began on Feb. 19 just before the third round at the Nissan Open was washed out by rain. Allenby, who initially thought he had rheumatoid arthritis, said he has undergone a series of blood tests to determine the cause with no success. He is scheduled to take another examination after the U.S. Open next week at Pinehurst, N.C.

"I'm a very 'feel' player," said Allenby, who still runs his cramped fingers under hot water on some mornings. "I've got to have the feeling in my hands. Otherwise, I have no chance of getting it in there."

Yesterday, Allenby needed just 25 putts to finish the round. He took 33 putts Thursday.

Where Allenby thrived, Gogel struggled. After setting a course-record 8-under 63 Thursday and leading the field by three, Gogel briefly flirted with 10-under before bogeying three of the last 11 holes to drop a stroke.

"If you don't hit fairways out here, you're going to have a hard time hitting greens," said Gogel, who hit just seven of 14 fairways yesterday after making 11 of 14 fairways Thursday. "I should be able to hit more fairways than I did today, and I hopefully, will do that over the weekend."

Four of the top five players in the world made the cut. No. 3 Ernie Els (67) is tied for sixth at 6-under, No. 4 Phil Mickelson is tied for 22nd at 4-under, and Singh and No. 5 Retief Goosen are among 11 players tied for 43rd at 2-under.

NOTES: 1992 U.S. Open champion Tom Kite had a 69 and stands tied for 11th place at 5-under. "I'm pleased with how I played," said the 1987 Kemper Open titlist. "The last month or so, I've been playing a lot better. It's finally starting to show in some reasonable scores." ... Former Maryland golf coach Fred Funk shot a 68 to make the cut.

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