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2009 U.S. OpenFARMINGDALE, N.Y. ' The accolades piled up like puddles in the middle of Bethpage Blacks 18th hole. The man child with the matinee-idol looks impressed the Tours aristocracy, and thats hard to do.
Ricky (Barnes) did all the right things, Tiger Woods said. He played beautifully.
Phil Mickelson, the sentimental favorite for all NYC despite his status on the leaderboard, gushed: Ricky Barnes is an incredible player. Hes been somewhat of an inspiration for me to get in the gym.
Ricky Barnes
Ricky Barnes shot 5-under 65 in the second round. (Getty Images)
The worlds Nos. 1 and 2 were not referring to the 2009 upgraded model of Barnes, however. That praise was offered more than six years ago for the brash 22-year-old with the disconnected swing and made-for-Madison-Avenue smile. But if Mickelson and Woods had paused a little longer between disjointed play Saturday at the 109th U.S. Open their collective take would have likely echoed the earlier assessment.
No, this is not the first time the towheaded Northern Californian has outplayed Woods at a major, but it may be his most impressive.
Barnes stormed out ' pardon the weather-whipped pun ' to opening rounds of 67-65 for a one-stroke halftime lead using, of all things, a measured approach to a mushy golf course and a steady putter. He was virtually unrecognizable from the 2003 Barnes who mugged for cameras and swung from the heels at Augusta National to post an opening 69 that was seven strokes better than his playing companion that day ' Woods.
With equal parts charisma and cocksureness and with more power than a ConEd transformer Barnes quickly became golfs version of the Jonas Brothers that summer of 03. He would play again with Woods at the 03 U.S. Open, where he would post an opening 71 to Woods 70. Not bad for a swashbuckling amateur on a stage that rewards patience over power.
Golf was easy and his spot among the rotating cast of challenges to Woods dominance a foregone conclusion. But golf is more fickle than an 8-10 split. He failed at Q-School, twice, was flummoxed on the Nationwide Tour in 2006 and seemed destined to become another cant-miss kid who crashed.
In the fading light of the 2007 season, he turned to Dean Reinmuth, the straight-shooting Southern Californian swing guru, who made it simple. If he wanted a Tour card he needed to improve his driving, his wedge play, his putting and his short game. Other than he was perfect.
Hes a talented athlete, Reinmuth said. But when you go from college to this arena there are a lot of little details that make up the success path.
Barnes cracked the grass ceiling last year on the Nationwide Tour, finishing 25th on the money list to finally earn a Tour card, and his progress this season, although slow, had given both student and teacher reason to be optimistic.
This Bethpage breakthrough, however, is something else altogether.
The kid that sports a painters cap crafted a pair of masterpieces through two soggy rounds ' spending more time on the Blacks fairways (19 of 28) than one of those guys with the squeegees and making just enough putts (59) to post a single bogey through two U.S. Open rounds.
I've grown up. I obviously thought after my college career I'd be out here right away, said Barnes, whose best finish this year on Tour is a tie for 47th at last weeks St. Jude Classic. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't really pissed off the first two or three years.
Barnes will start his third round early Sunday nine clear of Mickelson and 11 ahead of Woods, whose cards have been dotted with more color than a pair of John Daly pants.
Yesterday (his opening 74) hurt a lot, said Woods, who was even par through one hole when weather stopped Round 3. It put me so far behind the leaders.
Although he limped in to finish his second round, Woods is probably less concerned with the real-estate between himself and Barnes than he is the company keeping time between the two. Truth is hes still hitting the ball as well as he did at the Memorial he just hasnt converted on the Blacks riddled greens.
If everybody played in the conditions he played in hed be close to winning, said Padraig Harrington, who played along with Woods for the first two soggy rounds. Hes in better form now than when he won Bay Hill.
Woods has never come from behind to win a major. Neither has Barnes. So what? If Lou Graham (11 strokes back after 36 holes in 1975) is the model of the Open rally cap, its likely one milestone in which Woods has little interest.
After Barnes, the two most compelling storylines this week have been weather report and the scoring, which has produced not one but two record lows with Barnes (lowest 36-hole opening score, 132) and first stand in Lucas Glover (second lowest 36-hole opening, 133).
Good news: USGA set-up man Mike Davis name is now associated with two records in a 109-year-old tournament. Bad news: he works for an organization that hates records.
Simply put, the Bob Hope Classic portion of the U.S. Open is likely over and Davis & Co. will start introducing whats left of the field to the back tees.
Almost just as certain is Barnes staying power. This is not the 03 edition with the loose swing and loud exterior. The remake is mild by comparison and made for Bethpage .
Going into the final round of last weeks St. Jude Classic, Barnes was tied for 54th and sent a frustrated text message to Reinmuth: Have to go low (on Sunday). Wrong answer.
Reinmuth fired back another thought: Youll take 14 pars and no bogeys.
The swing coach may want to resend that missive to the reformed wild-child for Sundays marathon ' from 14 pars and no bogeys come major championships.
Related Links:
  • Full U.S. Open Scores
  • Full Coverage - The 109th U.S. Open
  • Golf Channel Airtimes