Nothing’s changed at Oakmont as the opening acts cleared out and the one people paid to see–the Gerney Tour–arrived. Once again, the greens and fairways were hard but, as expected, the Gerney Tour players were just that much better than their counterparts on the other two tours.
Exhibit A: In the eight rounds encompassing the Ruckhaus and Staffa Tours, the lowest round was a 64, done twice and both in the Ruckhaus Tour–by Woody Austin in the second round and Arnaud Massy in the last. Today, three players equaled or exceeded that, led by Dow Finsterwald’s 63.
Out in a mundane 1-under 34, Finsterwald hit nearly every green (16) and scrambled for par on the two he missed. He also saved his best work for the inward nine, shooting a blistering 29.
Finsterwald has been munching on a high fiber diet of checks, including one for over a million when he lost to Young Tom Morris in a playoff at the latter’s home grounds at St. Andrews back in event number two. Currently, he’s at 18th on the money list, having earned just north of a million seven. Finsterwald birdied ten on a 323 yard drive and a pitch to three feet. After running off pars at eleven and twelve, one on a scramble and another on a tee shot into the bunker at the 671 yard par five twelfth, Finsterwald was happy to be hanging on with a decent score.
Then something clicked. First it was his putter, with birdie putts of fifteen and nineteen feet at thirteen and fourteen. As fourteen was a relatively short par four of 370 and turned out to be the second easiest of the twelve par fours scattered about the venerable course, Finsterwald, though pleased, didn’t recognize the run he was on. Then came fifteen. Nice drive, not overly long (282) but definitely in play, though his ball and the pin were both on the left, he had a clean shot in and some green to work with. Selecting a 5-iron from 209, Finsterwald hit one of those shots that, if he were a baseball player, he would have stood at the plate and watched as you know when you connect on one. Well, in golf, most players stand and watch because they don’t have to run their shots out. But Finsterwald’s 5-iron was right on target with a couple bounces and a roll and an eagle two. So, what did he do for an encore? He almost holed out at the par three sixteenth. 229 with the pin tucked over a deep bunker on the right side with just a bit of fudge room. And, with a 2-iron, Finsterwald just cleared the bunker, hitting the fringe with his ball rolling to within two feet of an ace. Then, though he finished with a pair of pars, his luck ran out. Hitting his approach at seventeen to within five feet, he pushed his birdie putt while eighteen was a tee shot into the rough but otherwise a regulation par.
7-under 63 for Finsterwald and a one-shot lead over Tom Watson and Willie Campbell.
DOW FINSTERWALD (63, -7)
Nearly 400 golfers over nine rounds
at Oakmont and he’s the best so far.
As with Finsterwald, Watson played a bogey-free round. Unlike Finsterwald, Watson went on no birdie runs. Matter of fact, the best he could do was two in a row at nine and ten. Like Finsterwald, Watson hit a lot of greens (15) and scrambled when he didn’t. The highlights of Watson’s day were at ten and thirteen. At ten, Watson hit a big ugly high fade/slice into a ditch. Faced with a rotten lie and 181 in, all Watson did was take an 8-iron and stop it within six feet of the hole, making birdie. And, at thirteen, the shortest par three on the course and also at 181 yards, Watson stuck a 7-iron to two feet. Let’s see, an “8” out of a ditch and a “7” off the tee at the same distance. Smart guy, that Watson, as he must’ve factored in the roll on that approach at ten.
As for Campbell, he bettered both Finsterwald and Watson by recording nine birdies, including going 5-under over his last seven holes. After running off three birdies in a row starting at two, Campbell derailed at six, missing the green at the par three then three-putting from nineteen feet for a double. After not getting on in regulation at ten thanks to an errant tee shot, Campbell bogeyed there and was 1-under. Then came the finishing kick with decent-sized birdie putts at twelve and thirteen (21 and 19 feet), then excellent approaches at fifteen, seventeen and eighteen (8, 4 and 6 feet) leading to three more birdies. Not quite the 29 of Finsterwald, but Campbell came home in a more than respectable 31.
ROUNDING OUT THE TOP TEN:
Mark Hayes, with a 31 back nine, is all alone in fourth with a 65. Young Tom Morris and Justin Leonard had bogey-free rounds of 66 with Willie Anderson and his one-bogey round joining them. And, in a logjam at 67, are Retief Goosen, Chick Harbert, Padraig Harrington, Willie Park Sr. (Junior is also playing on the Gerney Tour this week and shot 69), Leo Diegel, Tom Kite, Arnold Palmer and Scott Verplank. Speaking of the last guy on that list, Verplank nearly equaled Finsterwald’s back nine, finishing up in 30, dropping four birdie putts of 13 feet or more.
SHOTS OF THE DAY:
Finsterwald has to be first, holing out from 209. But there are two other worthy candidates.
The first was by Park, Sr. at four. Playing at 579, it required two prodigious shots to get on in two. Park did just that, uncorking a 325 yard drive, just managing to avoid the Church Pews on the left. He followed that by overshooting the pin by ten yards, putting some hurt on a 3-metal. Then he took his putter and made it three perfect strokes in a row, knocking in a 30-footer for eagle (a result of “1”).
The other was by Jug McSpaden at eight. At probably the longest par three anywhere, playing at 294, McSpaden’s tee shot wasn’t a thing of beauty, hitting the green with a 3-metal and staying there–no small feat–but leaving a 69-foot putt. But he did win the sleeve of balls. Trying to get close, McSpaden knocked it in, his birdie being the only one at the eighth of all 131 players to come through. Unfortunately, for McSpaden, who shot a 2-over 72, he had as many bogeys as birdies plus a double to start his day, taking a slice out of his tee shot, almost hitting a car on Hulton Rd. before hitting straight on his next attempt and making six.
Dave Marr, 4-under through five, with four birdies in a row starting at two and nearly holing out on five, his approach from 112 stopping on the rim of the cup. But he bogeyed the two three pars on the front before parring the rest of the way in, finishing with a more than respectable 2-under 68.
Lawson Little ran off three birdies in a row starting at two and was 3-under through four. The one at three was almost a deuce as his 9-iron approach from 156 checked up on the rim of the cup. After the birdie run, Little then bogeyed five and six and, like Marr, finished with a 68.
And then there was Byron Nelson. Three birdies on the first four and then back-to-back on eleven and twelve saw Lord Byron at 5-under. Nelson almost holed out two approaches. Like Little, his approach just missed falling in at three, though he was a little closer–143. And, at the par five next, his pitch from 40 yards stuck one foot from an eagle. But Nelson uncharacteristically three-putted both thirteen and sixteen and couldn’t get up and down from just off the green at fifteen and that 5-under turned into 2-under–still good, but a rotten finish.
Chris DiMarco was 4-under through fourteen, including three birdies in a row starting at twelve where he almost holed out from 150 yards for eagle at the 671 yard par five, leaving a tap-in for his four. But DiMarco then threw himself into reverse which, when you’re going cruising along at about 70, will just fuck up your transmission, not to mention the whiplash–or worse. It started with a three-putt bogey at fifteen and another just like it at sixteen before finishing with an “army golf” bogey at the last, needing 124 just to get on the green in three at the par four, DiMarco limping in with a still respectable 69.