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A STRANGE START AT U.S. OPEN

Curtis Strange had the nervous opening round thousands of other golfers have had at the U.S. Open. That round included four bogeys, only three birdies and enough putting problems to send him directly from 18 pressure-packed holes to a session on a practice green.

Had Strange had this day almost any other year, he would still be the story of the U.S. Open. He'd still be in position to became the first man in 85 years to winthree consecutive Opens and would be looking forward to three more days when every eye in the sport would be focused on him.

Strange picked a bad day to shoot an average U.S. Open opening round. He picked a day that followed a night of soaking rains, a muggy, still day when putting greens turned mushy and the traditional hard fairways stayed that way.

The result was a vulnerable golf course and a round unlike any other the U.S. Open has seen in its 90 years, this on the tournament's longest course in history and in an event that prides itself on making par a sometimes unreachable goal.

Strange ended the first day almost out of the running, shooting a one-over-par 73 and trailing leaders Tim Simpson, Jeff Sluman and Scott Simpson by seven strokes.

U.S. Opens are filled with stories of players who enjoyed one day of glory, only to be swallowed up by Friday or Saturday. None of the three leaders has won a tournament this season, and only Scott Simpson, who is not related to Tim Simpson, has ever won a major championship - the 1987 U.S. Open.

Still, what Strange must find forbidding is that he not only trails these three players, who blistered Medinah with course-record 66s, but that 34 other golfers are also in front of him.

"I've got a lot of ground to make up," he said. "I'm not feeling too sporty right now."

Instead, this was a day for other heroes. Lots of them. Thirty-nine players broke par, shattering the mark of 24 established in the second round of the 1985 Open at Oakland Hills Country Club in Birmingham, Mich.

The Simpsons and Sluman led, but dozens of others were in contention, including Steve Jones and Mike Donald, one shot back at 67; Mark Brooks and John Huston at 68; Billy Ray Brown, Emlyn Aubrey, Bob Tway and Hale Irwin at 69. Ten others - including Provo's Mike Reid - were within four strokes and 16 more were within five.

Strange wasn't the only familiar name to have problems. Jack Nicklaus struggled after a fast start and finished with a 71. Greg Norman, the tour's leading money winner, and Masters champion Nick Faldo were six strokes back at 72.

"It was playing an entirely different course from the three previous practice rounds," Sluman said.

His best performance this season was a second-place finish at the Greater Greensboro Open. He has missed the cut in five tournaments and finished virtually out of the money every other time.

Thursday, he birdied Nos. 4, 5, 8, 10 and 11 and didn't have a bogey. He played Medinah like it's supposed to be played-cautiously and in the middle of the fairways.

But the golfer a lot of people will be watching the next couple of days will be Scott Simpson, who, at 34, has come about as close as anyone to winning three Opens. Since winning in 1987, he has finished sixth twice, but his three-year total score has been 839-the same as Strange's three-year total.

"Maybe this tournament fits my game," he said. "I get keyed up here and have looked up to this tournament since I was a kid. I love the courses they pick. I can't think of any one of them I haven't liked. They're carved out of trees and they're tough. They reward you if you hit a good stroke and penalize you if you hit a bad one."

*****

Blake logs hole in one

Jay Don Blake logged the day's sole hole-in-one at Thursday's opening round fo the U.S. Open, earning the ace with a 6-iron on the 190-yard par-3 eighth hole.

The 31-year-old St. George resident finished the round with an even-par 72, six strokes off the lead.