More than a paycheck

Published 10:16 pm Tuesday, June 9, 2009

There was more media coverage of Tiger Woods playing a practice round Monday at Bethpage Black — the Long Island course that will host the U.S. Open in a bit more than a week — than coverage of the many players trying to scramble their way into the U.S. Open at courses around the country on Monday.

For good reason, too. I mean, he is Tiger Woods. Plus, given what Woods did Sunday with a classic birdie-birdie finish to win in front of Jack Nicklaus, two days after a season-worst 74, it was an unneeded reminder that he is Tiger Woods.

There were a couple of good reasons to follow the equivalent of minor-league golf Monday, though, as David Duval and Tom Lehman qualified for the U.S. Open.

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Both golfers are common names to sports fans, but that’s the point in this case.

Duval was No. 1 in the world for a brief moment, and it was even while Tiger was healthy and doing very well.

In the last few years, Duval’s been mostly absent from the PGA Tour, either because he was quasi-retired or because he’s been closer to 80 than to even-par. This season, he’s made the cut in four of 12 PGA Tour events, with 40th place being his best finish. He missed the 2007 and 2008 U.S. Opens.

Duval qualified through a 36-hole day in Columbus, Ohio. More than half of the 156 golfers who will get a chance at golf’s national championship starting a week from Thursday get there through local qualifiers.

For anyone familiar with soccer, the U.S. Open is a kindred spirit with England’s FA Cup. Every soccer team in the country is eligible to enter, so it’s possible an amateur club could wind up with the opportunity of a storybook 1-0 win at Manchester United.

In golf, the odds aren’t that crazy. Rocco Mediate would’ve won last year’s U.S. Open if his final challenger had been anyone other than the aforementioned Tiger. Mediate had to get through local and sectional qualifiers to make the ’08 Open.

For Lehman — somewhat similar to Duval, but without the inexplicable fall from the top — there’s a golfer who’s now eligible for the senior tour. Lehman’s made more than $22 million on the PGA Tour in his career and is a British Open champion. There’s nothing more that he needs to prove in his golf career.

Yet, Lehman, after a 45th-place finish at the Memorial in Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday, played 36 holes Monday and survived to make the Open field.

Lehman held up a packet which each U.S. Open qualifier got at the end of the day Monday in Columbus at that qualifying site, saying to a media person, “This is worth way more than the paycheck from yesterday at the Memorial.”