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Jordan, Timberlake, Big Ben have grand day

Of course an average amateur golfer would be scared out of his wits, playing the Black Course at Bethpage under U.S. Open conditions. That is the whole point of the Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge. It is seeing the amateur sweat.

It is all about hearing the amateur say, as this one did, after the Challenge on Friday: "Early on, I was so tight, it was amazing. I could not get loose to save my life . . . I was nervous. I could never settle myself down."

Ultimately, the amateur prevailed. He did settle down and shot a very commendable 86 on the Black. He was up to the challenge in the Challenge, this amateur, Michael Jordan.

In fact, all three celebrities in the serious event, conducted by the U.S. Golf Association on the Open course, handled it well. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger thrived as he did in the Super Bowl, making two birdies and shooting a rather remarkable 81.

"Ben made some great shots today and that's what you have to do, make great shots and grind out putts," said Justin Timberlake, who started strongly, wobbled a bit, but still shot 88.

The only one of the foursome who didn't come away happy with his score was Larry Giebelhausen, a police lieutenant from Scottsdale, Ariz., who won a national contest to try to break 100. He nearly shot his age, 59 - on the front nine (he had 53). But even he looked like a cinch to meet his goal until he lost his tee shot left on the par-4 16th and made 10. He ended up shooting 101.

Giebelhausen said he doesn't regret playing in the contest that will be televised on NBC next Sunday before the final round of the Open. He has tickets to the practice round Monday. "Yeah, I'm still going to come," he said.

It will be interesting to see if the Black has more bite next week than it did Friday. The rain had softened the greens, which did not seem as fast as they normally are for the Open.

When Roethlisberger, waiting to hit out of trees on the left on No. 9, was asked by fans what he thought of the course, he said, "Not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I've played Oakmont and it's not as bad as that."

Afterward, though, the quarterback did recount having talked with Jordan on the 18th fairway and saying, "Any golf course we play from now on will be kind of easy."

Jordan, asked about Bethpage, said: "It's in my top five, without a doubt. I've played a lot of courses. I'm a member at Medinah. This golf course, people around here should be proud of it." It had intimidated him into a tailspin before his caddie, friend and former Masters champion Fred Couples calmed him down.

After missing a putt on No. 9, Jordan said in a stage whisper, "Some caddie I've got." When a marshal was quiet after Jordan thanked him for his service, Jordan said, "Are you a Knick fan?"

Bottom line, he did much better than his friend and world's No. 1 golfer had expected him to. What was his response to Tiger Woods, whose personal challenge had been that Jordan couldn't break 92?

Said Jordan, "I don't take checks."

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