FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Could there have been a more enticing preview for what will come today? Did NBC have a hand in this?
Moments before darkness closed the curtains Sunday at the 109th U.S. Open, Tiger Woods crept onto the first page of the leaderboard.
Meanwhile, Ricky Barnes, seemingly in position to win his first anything since 2002, took on the gait of a man who couldn’t swallow. Was a golf ball lodged in his throat?
Barnes bogeyed the first hole of his final round and snap-hooked his drive on the second. He opted to wait until this morning to play his second shot. By then, maybe his heart will stop beating through his shirt.
Woods birdied No. 7 to move to seven shots off the lead.
Phil Mickelson, who waltzes around Bethpage Black like William Shatner at a “Star Trek” convention, is five back. Same for Hunter Mahan, David Duval and Ross Fisher.
Then there’s Lucas Glover, who looked hopeless during a three-hole stretch in the third round but is now eye-to-eye with Barnes at 7 under par.
A bit confused?
So are the players, who have endured four days of starts, stops and restarts due to showers that have turned Bethpage Black into Bethpage Splat.
“We can’t even remember what day we were playing,” Woods said. “It all blurs together.”
Barnes, speaking after his third round, said he expected to hold up amid the final-round pressure.
“With these crowds out here, it felt like Sunday today,” he said.
Well, it was Sunday. But a third-round Sunday.
This Monday finish will be the first for a U.S. Open – excluding playoffs – since 1983 at Oakmont.
That year, a Sunday afternoon thunderstorm forced a five-hole Monday finish.
This year, Glover and Barnes have 16 1/2 holes to play. Or in Barnes’ case, at least 16 3/4 .
Even before Barnes stumbled at nightfall, even when he had a six-shot lead midway through the third round, there was mass skepticism that he would emerge as the Open champion.
Once a brash phenom who won the 2002 U.S. Amateur wearing a Hawaiian shirt, Barnes went invisible for about six years.
He has never so much as contended in a PGA Tour event in 36 career starts. He had entered the final round of a tour event within 10 shots of the lead just three times.
He hasn’t even won a Nationwide Tour event. He was tied for the 54-hole lead at the 2006 Oregon Classic and shot a final-round 68, but that was merely good enough for the silver medal.
If Barnes is victorious here, he will become the lowest-ranked player in history – 519th – to win a major championship. (The rankings began in 1986.)
Barnes played well in the third round. With an eagle on No. 4 that got him to 11 under, he became only the fourth player in U.S. Open history to reach double digits under par. The last to do it was Jim Furyk in the third round at Olympia Fields in 2003.
Barnes needed a birdie on No. 18 to tie Furyk’s 54-hole record, a 10-under 200 at Olympia.
Instead he came up short on his approach and needed help from fans to find his ball in the fescue. After hitting a beautiful blast to four feet, Barnes missed the par putt.
“A sour taste to a good round,” he called it.
Glover, a long driver from South Carolina who ranks 32nd on the PGA Tour money list, survived a bogey-double bogey-bogey stretch in the third round and has to be considered the ever-so-slight favorite heading into today.
What does he need to shoot in the final round to win?
“If I knew,” he said, “I’d mail it into Vegas.”
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