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Sports views: '%& yeah!': Gore the best story of the Open

Posted: Sunday, June 19, 2005

Inspector No. 54 must have been on a coffee break when Jason Gore rolled off the PGA Tour assembly line. Flat-bellied and unsmiling the man is not.

But the runaway best story at this U.S. Open?

That the 818th-ranked player in the world most definitely is.

As a 15-foot birdie putt dropped at the final hole and propped Gore up in second place, you got the feeling he probably was absent the day the tour held a seminar on the proper way to celebrate.

''%& yeah!'' Gore shouted — and somewhere back in the NBC trailers, the bosses were praying there were very few lip-readers left in the viewing audience.

Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes, and so it's probably a good idea for somebody at the network to keep the mute button close by. Because chances are good that Gore missed more than his fair share of the other seminars offered by the PGA Tour, too.

Like the one about maximizing commercial sponsorships, since his caddie, Louis Pullen, sports a ''Pabst Blue Ribbon'' hat because of loyalty, as opposed to royalties.

Or the one about working hand-in-golf-glove with sports psychologists, since this is what Gore said when someone asked about his ''thought process'' before stepping onto the biggest stage of his 6-year pro career:

''Actually,'' he replied, ''it was, 'When am I going to get a new stereo for my car and how am I going to keep my wife in clothes?'''

The story there is that thieves broke into his car last Sunday night when the Gores stopped in Asheville en route to Pinehurst. They got everything but his clubs and golf shoes, and missed those only because Pullen volunteered to drive them down from their last stop on the Nationwide Tour in suburban Chicago. Rather than embittered, Gore was amused.

''They took all my underwear,'' he chuckled, ''those poor guys.''

It's a good thing the 31-year-old former wunderkind from Southern California likes to laugh. Rarely has America's national championship yielded so few red numbers and so many humorless expressions. Two-time and defending Open champion Retief Goosen is the only player left in the 83-man field below par at 3-under. Gore and journeyman Olin Browne are next at even-par and even Browne has no illusions where the rooting interest lies.

''He's the story of the Open. He's a guy that nobody has ever heard of and they're digging the way he plays,'' Browne said. ''I think that's cool.''

The car break-in aside, Gore has taken so many lumps just to get here that everything looks like gravy to him.

He played a practice round Tuesday with Fred Couples, ''and everybody was yelling, 'Freddie, Freddie,''' he recalled.

''I said, 'Gosh, does it ever get old?' He looks at me and goes, 'No, not really.'

''I've never heard my name yelled so much in my life since I was in grade school and the teacher was screaming at me.''

Just about the same time, Gore was bumping heads with Tiger Woods on California's brutally competitive junior circuit. He took a lot of grief because his size always made him look overage.

''He's got all the talent in the world,'' Woods said. ''He's always been a very long hitter. It's just a matter of fine-tuning his swing and he's done that.''

It didn't happen fast or easy. The day Gore turned pro, he found his father, Sheldon, dead on the floor at home, the victim of a heart attack. That was in 1997. It was the first in a series of setbacks that saw Gore bounce back and forth between golf's minor leagues and the bigs.

If ever there was a U.S. Open waiting to be snatched by somebody coming out of nowhere — remember John Daly bombing his way to the PGA Championship in 1991 or Ben Curtis winning the British Open two years ago — this feels like it. It's ''Tin Cup,'' only maybe for real this time.

The leaderboard, with the exception of Goosen at the top, looks like it's been turned upside down. Besides Gore and Browne, there's the pair in third place, afterthought Michael Campbell and Mark Hensby, whose golfing fortunes dipped so low 10 years ago that he spent more than a few nights sleeping in his old Ford hatchback in the parking lot at a course. More than a few of the names the rest of the way down are household names only in their own households.

And come Sunday, their patron saint, the happy go-lucky guy shaped like a pear, figures to take the best shot for all the Roy McAvoys of the world.

''I'm in the final pairing. I've come this far,'' Gore said, ''Who knows? I've come this far. If they invite me out on the 18th green and they hand me a large piece of silver, that will be pretty special.''

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org.



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