Slumping stars will find tough course to cure ills

Thursday, June 18, 2009
Sergio Garcia of Spain hits off the sixth tee during his practice round for the U.S. Open Golf Championship at Bethpage State Park's Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y., Wednesday, June 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- Anthony Kim has lost the dynamic game that made him one of the PGA Tour's rising stars last summer, and knows that Bethpage Black in full U.S. Open trim is an unlikely place to find it.

"I just haven't been as patient as I need to be on the golf course, and if there's anywhere that's going to test it, it's going to be at Bethpage," said Kim, set to begin play today on the long, difficult public course.

A two-time winner last year, Kim -- who will be 24 on Friday -- opened the season with a second-place tie at Kapalua, his only top-15 finish of the year. He's making his first start since tying for 54th three weeks ago at Colonial.

"To be honest, it's not far off, and I said that early last year before I went off and won a couple tournaments," Kim said.

Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Vijay Singh and Adam Scott also are far from their best entering the second major of the year.

Vijay Singh of Fiji watches his tee shot on the second hole during his practice round for the U.S. Open Golf Championship at Bethpage State Park's Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y. (Mel Evans ~ Associated Press)

Harrington won the British Open and PGA Championship last year and began the season at No. 3 in the world, but the Irishman tinkered with his swing and has slipped to No. 11. He missed the cut in the Memorial (75-77) and St. Jude Classic (72-72) the last two weeks and hasn't broken 70 on the PGA Tour since a first-round 69 in the Masters.

"There has been a bit of focus on work I have been doing on my swing," Harrington said. "In fairness, I've done that work all the time at different stages in my career. And what all the difference is, I'm a little bit more high profile now and the spotlight is on me and people are noticing that I'm doing it.

"I was No. 3 in the world. I wanted to get better, and the way to get better is improve things and change things, and if that means I step back a bit, that's OK in the short term. I would have liked to have come out just a little quicker, and certainly I didn't intend to drag it so far into the season."

He knows he'll have to drive well to contend.

"If you drive it straight and long, you're going to be a happy man this week," said Harrington, grouped with defending champion Tiger Woods and Masters winner Angel Cabrera for the first two rounds.

Sergio Garcia of Spain signs autographs following his practice round for the U.S. Open. Garcia missed the cut last week at the St. Jude Classic. (Charles Krupa ~ Associated Press)

Garcia finished fourth at Bethpage in 2002, but is best remembered that week for constantly regripping his club -- to refrains of "Just hit it, waggle boy!" -- and giving the vocal fans a middle-finger salute.

"I am the way I am, but I think that's what people love about me, because this is what you get, unfortunately both in a good and a bad way," Garcia said. "I think as you get older, you learn from things you've done in the past, and you try to mature."

The Spaniard missed the cut last week in Memphis, shooting 70-73 in his first PGA Tour start since The Players Championship. He also has struggled emotionally after breaking up with girlfriend Morgan-Leigh Norman, Greg Norman's daughter.

"I feel much better," Garcia said. "I think I'm obviously looking forward to playing a bit more now and I can see that the things I'm working with, with my dad [Victor] and Stan [Utley], they're doing good. It's not easy. But at least if you are looking forward to working on it and trying to get better, it always helps."

Scott has had a miserable season, missing cuts in seven of his last eight events. At the Memorial in his last start, the Australian shot 77-81.

The 46-year-old Singh, a three-time major champion, had a season-best sixth-place tie in the Colonial, then missed the cut in the Memorial (75-75) in his last start.

The slumping stars have little margin for error at Bethpage.

"If you get it on the big stuff, hopefully you'll manage to come out of there alive," Garcia said.

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