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Whither the 'Big Three'?

By: Marino Parascenzo


There is an amazing and brutal arithmetic through two rounds of the U.S.: 3-2=1. Any grade school kid can do it: 3 minus 2 leaves 1.

Golf is the great equalizer, the great reducer-to-tears. It recognizes no superiority, no nobility and certainly no hierarchy.

And so, on the second day of the U.S. Open at a demanding Olympic Club, that painful and excising little work of subtraction sent two of the world's top three players packing.

England's Chicago-based Luke Donald, No. 1 in the world and a part-time artist, painted a new version of "The Scream" with a 72 Friday. That followed a whopping 79 in the first round. At 151, he missed the cut and is headed home to the Windy City.

"I was a little off," said the mild-mannered Donald, "and that's not going to get you around a U.S. Open course."

Northern Ireland whiz kid Rory McIlroy, who destroyed the U.S. Open at Congressional last year, winning it by eight shots, authored a not-so-stellar 73.

He shot 77 in the first round, and so a two-round 150 has No. 2 heading wherever. The Northern Irishman was last seen with his head in his hands.

"I don't feel," McIlroy said, "I played that badly the last two days."

The lone survivor of Europe's "Big Three" is England's Lee Westwood, who posted 73-72 for a 145 to stick around for another two days.

When I saw Westwood he was headed for the practice range, hoping to reverse a propensity for wilting just enough to ruin his chances. He's never won a U.S. Open or any other of the four majors - the Masters, British Open and PGA Championship.

He's come close, but they somehow slip away.

As to which was the bigger surprise for missing the cut - Donald or McIlroy, it was a dead heat. Queen Elizabeth recently made Donald an MBE - a Member of the Order of the British Empire. Would a little smile from Lady Liberty be too much to ask?

Not yet. He's never come close to winning the U.S. Open. Donald missed on most cylinders at Olympic. He hit only 18 of the 36 greens in regulation in his two rounds. Worse, he hit just 13 of the 28 fairways in two. And he averaged 32.5 putts per round.

The first round, in particular, was a killer. He made nine bogeys and no birdies on that 79, which tied Andy Zhang, the 14-year-old Chinese amateur who said innocently, "At least I broke 80."

Maybe Donald felt the same way as the youngster. Giving a little sigh of relief, he lamented, "I think I missed nine putts inside 10 feet yesterday, and couldn't get the feel for the greens - the reads, the speed."

Donald did make three birdies in the second round. That's three in 36 holes. In the first round, he got crushed down the stretch, taking bogeys at the 11th, 13th, 14th and 16th. Friday, it was nightmare deja vu - Donald bogeyed all four again in the second round.

McIlroy also had a mere three birdies and was likewise all over the lot. He hit just 19 greens, 15 of the 28 fairways, and averaged 32 putts, a decimal point better than the guy ranked above him in the all-important World Golf Ranking.

"Obviously disappointed," McIlroy said. "I think the thing is, we're just not used to playing this sort of golf course week in, week out. We're not used to having to land balls before the edge of the greens to let them roll on.

"You have to adapt and you have to adjust. And I wasn't able to do that very well this week." Then he touched on a telling point. "It hasn't been the greatest run over the last sort of six weeks, or whatever it is," he said.

For sure, that streak is worth forgetting. For all of the talent flashed in his four years, McIlroy's been amazingly bad recently. He missed the cut in the European PGA Championship, came back to the U.S. and missed two more in the Players Championship and Memorial. He recovered, tying for seventh in the St. Jude in his last American outing, before this crash in the U.S. Open.

All of which is enough to put a guy's head in his hands.

"I still see enough good stuff in the rounds that it does give me hope it's not very far away," McIlroy said, a guy of 23 and who in his fifth year on the PGA Tour is sounding very much like Tiger Woods, age 36, and in the throes of a different kind of transformation.

Back to Donald, who some said waited too long to come to Olympic, having arrived on Saturday and not getting in enough work. He brushed that off gently.

"I certainly don't regret anything that I did before teeing up on Thursday," quipped the Brit. "I just didn't come here swinging well enough, and obviously my putter was a bit cold this week."

And how about the U.S. Open that's protected by a fortress he can't crack, asked someone in the media corps. Answered Donald:

"I want to win one more than any of you guys know."

Marino Parascenzo can assure you that hanging around with great and famous pro golfers does nothing to help your game. They just won't give you the secret. But it makes for a dandy career. As a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (now retired), Parascenzo covered the whole gamut of sports - Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Pitt, Penn State and others - but golf was his favorite. As the beat writer for the paper, he covered all the stateside majors and numerous other pro events, and as a freelancer handled reporting duties for the British Open and other tournaments overseas - in Britain, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and Malayasia. Marino has won more than 20 national golf-writing awards, along with state and regional awards. He has received the Memorial Tournament's Golf Journalism Award and the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines, among them Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and in anthologies and foreign publications. He also wrote the history of Oakmont Country Club. Parascenzo is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is on its board of directors. He is the founder and chairman of the GWAA's Journalism Scholarship Program. He is a graduate of Penn State and was an adjunct instructor in journalism at Pitt.