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LOOMING U.S. OPEN MAKING WOOSNAM LOSE HIS MASTERS GRIN

Ian Woosnam's Masters grin is a grimace of frustration as he pursues the elusive Grand Slam in the prairie heat of the U.S. Open.

He stalks the slender fairways and slippery greens of Hazeltine National with trepidation, not the cocky swagger that characterized his gait at Augusta National two months ago.He knows he has a chance to make history, but events seem to be conspiring against him, taunting him like a nightmare of putts that linger on the lip of every hole.

This revamped course does not suit his adventurous style. His head is clogged from a cold. His spirit is low after a few weak outings. And the record book shows no one has won the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year since Jack Nicklaus in 1972. No one has ever won all four Grand Slam titles in a single season.

Woosnam's response to all that Tuesday, two days before the start of the 91st U.S. championship, was to go out after a practice round and bash dozens of balls as hard as he could.

"Whoever's going to be driving the ball long and straight is going to do well," said the chunky little Welshman, who worries more about the direction of his drives than their distance. "At the moment, my confidence is not very high, and I think I'm a confidence player."

Most of the pundits are overlooking him in this tournament, though the fans mob him at every hole as if he were a cute rock star instead of a hard-smoking, beer-drinking, snooker-playing Brit.

The hot players are Billy Andrade and Corey Pavin. Greg Norman says he has the fire in his belly to win again. Seve Ballesteros is coming back strong. Defending champion Hale Irwin looks as if he's ready to give it another run. Nick Faldo is always a threat and amateur Phil Mickelson, a smooth-hitting left-hander, is showing the promise of a future champion.

Woosnam figures those are the favorites, too, but he's not quite giving up on himself.

"Obviously it's in the back of my mind to try to go for the Grand Slam, but I'm a little bit disappointed that I'm not playing too well," he said. "I'm a little upset because I've really been looking forward to coming here and playing good. Things could change around tomorrow. I'm an inspirational player. If I start hitting the ball well tomorrow all the way around, it could help change things for me."

Hazeltine National will penalize Woosnam and any other player who has a tendency to stray from the middle of the fairways or muff approach shots. The rough is five inches tall and the fairways are long and narrow, like green carpet runners.

"Augusta favors long hitters. This one demands nothing but accuracy," said Curtis Strange.

Weeping willows, lindens, birches, silver maples, blue spruce, butternut and other lovely, sweet-sounding trees have grown up and given character to a course that was badly, though not unfairly maligned when it last hosted the Open in 1970.

None of the gale-force winds that blew through here 21 years ago have been felt lately. In fact, the air Tuesday was hot, muggy and still.

But the greens remain treacherous and unforgiving. Shaved low and baked hard by the sun after recent rains, putts skidded during practice as if they were rolling on glass instead of grass.

"These are the fastest Open greens we've seen in quite a while," said Strange. "Anybody who does well here is going to have to do everything well. You've got to drive well. You've got to use your irons well. And you have to putt well."