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Glover hopes to nab another U.S. Open

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- A crowd of more than 100 reporters was still pouring out of the room after wrapping up an interview with Phil Mickelson when Lucas Glover replaced Mickelson behind the mike.

If it bothered the defending champion that there were only 17 scribes left when he took his first question, he didn't show it.

Life, Glover says, has not changed much since he put himself in an exclusive club last June -- a major-championship winner after slogging through five rainy days at Bethpage to take the U.S. Open.

Winning a big one may have spruced up the 30-year-old South Carolinian's resume, but it didn't much change his outlook, or the amount of attention he gets.

"Life got a little busier, phone rang a little bit more," Glover said. "I signed a few more autographs, but nothing too crazy. And that's probably the way I would want it and would like it to stay."

Glover hadn't finished among the top 20 in money winners before his signature victory last year. The win erased some of the issues that follow most young journeymen -- keeping the tour card, getting invited to majors -- but it did nothing to put him in the company of Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Adam Scott or any of the other PGA Tour players who double as sports celebrities.

Not that Glover is looking for that.

"I've always tried to focus on working on my weaknesses and getting better," he said. "And I didn't see a point in changing me or my golf swing or anything like that."

The Glover win was part of a strange 2009 at the majors -- a year where the runners-up, in many ways, made bigger news than the winners.

Y.E. Yang stood toe to toe with Woods at the PGA Championship and became the first player to beat Woods after he had led entering the final round of a major.

Stewart Cink broke the heart of 59-year-old Tom Watson and golf fans everywhere at the British.

Angel Cabrera beat out Chad Campbell and 48-year-old fan favorite Kenny Perry at the Masters.

Glover was steady over five days of rain and muck at Bethpage and beat out Mickelson and David Duval, the former world No. 1 who came in ranked 882nd and, like Mickelson, held a share of the lead on the back nine.

It marked Glover's second career victory, and though he hasn't won since, he did finish third at The Players Championship last month, yet another sign that he can no longer be ignored.

He opened last year at Bethpage with a double-bogey. He knew the only way to recover at a U.S. Open, "the toughest test in golf," was to stay patient, which he did -- all the way through his 3-over 73 in the final round that was good enough to seal the win. Anticlimactic? Maybe. But for Glover, it was a sign of how far he'd come.

"Had that been two or three years ago, I don't think I would have even recovered and made the cut," he said of his double-bogey start. "But that was from working between the ears a little bit, and just realizing that it had to be that way to succeed."

The game plan will almost certainly have to be the same this year.

The tournament is being held at Pebble Beach, but this is hardly the same course that hosts an annual PGA Tour stop -- the famous AT&T National Pro-Am -- every February.

The rough is growing, the greens are drying out. The wind off the Pacific blew during practice rounds Tuesday, foreshadowing the threat of a speedy, greenish-brown course where club selection will be difficult. Players could need anything from a 6-iron to a sand wedge at the famous, downhill, 109-yard, par-3 seventh.

"You just have to understand that it's a long haul," Woods said. "It's a long grind. It's different than most major championships. You're not going to make a lot of birdies and the whole idea is to not make any big numbers because it's hard to get them back."

Woods, of course, set the standard for U.S. Open success 10 years ago -- here at Pebble Beach.

In a nearly flawless week of golf, he shot 12-under par and won by 15 strokes -- a couple of records that don't figure to be matched anytime soon.

Not even by him -- at least not this week, if the results during this, an abbreviated season so far, are any indicator.

Since his fourth-place finish at the Masters, Woods has missed a cut at Quail Hollow, pulled out of The Players Championship with a neck injury and finished 19th at the Memorial.

Asked about the state of his game Tuesday, he sounded like a man trying to convince himself everything was OK.

"The more I play, the more I get my feel back," Woods said. "Where I was in the beginning of June is where a lot of the guys are in January and February -- the amount of rounds they competed and played in. So I'm just starting to get my feel back. And I know I have to be patient. It's coming along."

As everyone knows, the U.S. Open is not the place to be rounding into shape. It's an unpredictable endurance test, and because of that, it's not the easiest place to pick a winner. For every Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Tom Watson, there's a Jack Fleck, Michael Campbell and, yes, a Lucas Glover.

Going from a one-time surprise to something even bigger is the defending champion's next goal.

"It's been a good year and it's hard to believe it's been a year," Glover began. "But that reality set in when I had to send the trophy back."

CHILL IN THE AIR: It was chilly enough as Woods played his practice round on Tuesday. As he waited for two groups ahead of him on the 10th tee, it got even cooler.

The gallery parted, and Tom Watson stepped onto the tee.

Watson made small talk with some of the players, the gallery and Roger Maltbie, but made no effort to speak to Woods, who was sitting on the bench. Woods never made eye contact with Watson or any attempt to speak to him.

Watson was critical of Woods earlier this year, saying that along with needing to show more humility after his downfall, he needed to clean up his language on the course.

Both are U.S. Open champions at Pebble Beach and Stanford alumni.

CAN'T LET IT GO: Though they're covering golf, not soccer, members of the British media at Pebble Beach were still focusing on the big news of the week in their country: The goal Robert Green gave up in a 1-1 tie against the United States at the World Cup on Saturday.

It has been widely regarded as one of the worst goals ever allowed, and two British newspapers used the headline "Hand of Clod" -- a riff on the famous "Hand of God" goal by Diego Maradona in 1986 that ousted England from the World Cup.

British reporters asked for Lee Westwood's take: "Mistakes happen," he said. "I've made them on the golf course, at spectacular times. You're not trying to do it, it's just one of those things."

Woods added: "It was a gift. Certainly was a gift. That was a nice little gift on the goal there. I hope he gets a chance to play and is not finished."

As for the of vuvuzelas that have become the soundtrack of the tournament, Els said he wouldn't mind hearing the constant buzz at the U.S. Open.

Well, maybe just during the practice rounds.

"I think it'd be cool," the South Africa native said. "(But) I don't think the USGA would ever allow it on the grounds. Maybe practice rounds, that would give a bit of more spirit to things. Those things are really loud, though."

Els said he's hoping to make it back to South Africa for a game later in the tournament and was impressed by the performance of his home country in their 1-1 tie against Mexico to open the tournament.

"With all the noise going on there, I think it's a real great atmosphere for the players down there," he said.

HARRINGTON SURGERY: Former British Open champion Padraig Harrington arrived at the U.S. Open just three weeks after undergoing minor knee surgery.

Harrington, who missed the cut at last year's Open and was in a tie for fifth in the 2000 Open at Pebble Beach, said his knee has responded well to the eight-hour surgery.

"It's responded well, I'm comfortable," Harrington said. "While it needs a certain amount of minding and I have to look after it, it's not posing any problem to me playing golf."