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Amazingly, O'Hair opened with rounds of 73-67, treating the Old Course as if it were one of those hardpan tracks he played when he was a squirt growing up in Lubbock, Texas. "I feel very comfortable out there," he said after Saturday's round, a 70. "I grew up playing in the wind, and west Texas has that hard ground. There's not a whole lot that's really green." O'Hair's third-round playing partner was two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer, who marveled at how the skinny young American had handled the quirky links with little sleep and practically no preparation. "It shows how good he is," Langer said. "He had a couple of lip-outs today or he would have shot even lower."
?prep-a-ra-tion n--1. the state of having been made ready beforehand; 2. readiness; 3. a prerequisite for success for golfers over 40 (see Faxon)
I guess you'd say Faxon was prepared. The Open was his 64th major, and although he has never won one--his best finish so far is a fifth at the 1995 PGA Championship--he has cast his not-so-long shadow over a few trophies. A decade ago he shared the British Open lead with John Daly after two rounds at St. Andrews, only to let the Old Course get the better of him on a windy weekend. ( Daly won; Faxon finished 15th.) Five years later Faxon took another tilt at St. Andrews by trying to qualify at Lundin Links. That time, he failed to advance.
So you could understand his high spirits last week when the Scottish fans, knowing the path Faxon had taken, showered him with affection. "Aw, it's unbelievable," he said on Saturday evening, peeking at the scoreboard to confirm that he was really at eight under, tied for fifth with Sergio Garc�a. "It's very hard not to get emotional out there. You get so juiced up, the way people applaud." Faxon admitted that he wasn't above a little cheering himself. On Friday afternoon he had stood on the clubhouse steps to watch Jack Nicklaus end his tournament career with a birdie at 18. "I was bawlin' like a little baby," said Faxon. "When the ball went in, I jumped with my arms up like somebody had made a touchdown in a Patriots game."
O'Hair did some jumping, too, but his airtime was for the utilitarian purpose of seeing what was beyond the Old Course's gorse-covered mounds. On Saturday, after successfully two-putting from off the green at the Road Hole, he said, "I felt as if the hill was taller than I was. You have wind, grain, hills, slopes...."
?gorse n--1. any of several spiny shrubs native to Europe and having fragrant yellow flowers and black pods. Also called whin
?win v--1. to achieve victory or finish first in a competition
Not that O'Hair, six under and in a tie for eighth after three rounds, thought he had a serious chance of overtaking Tiger Woods, who was at 12 under. O'Hair hadn't made up a large gap to win a tournament in ... well, in a week. (He came from five back to win the Deere.) So O'Hair wasn't thinking about winning at all, not for one minute. "Obviously," he said with a smile, "it would be great to shoot a little 59 tomorrow."
?to-mor-row n--1. the day following today; 2. in golf, the time frame during which hoped-for good things and dreaded bad things occur
That's my way of explaining that on Sunday both Faxon and O'Hair had reason to pull out their hair one moment and blow kisses to the grandstands the next. They made six birdies, seven bogeys and two double bogeys between them, and when the dust settled, Faxon had shot 76 and O'Hair 73. But inasmuch as the Old Course played dry and nasty all day, they didn't lose much ground. Faxon wound up 23rd, his third-best finish of the year. O'Hair, meanwhile, finished bogey-birdie for 15th, giving him a wee boost in the World Ranking. ( O'Hair, who was unranked a year ago, is now 47th.)