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2002 U.S. OPEN / BETHPAGE BLACK / Tough Crowd Takes Its Best Shots / No golfer is spared from NY's boisterous galleries

The tee shot was a beauty. Craig Stadler launched it high

into the air and the ball nestled softly on the green, barely three feet from

the pin. He raised his club in exclamation and the cry came out of the crowd.

"Heyyyyyyyy - three-putt for a bogey!"

Welcome to No. 17.

You want coronation? Go to the 18th hole. You want agony? Try tricky 15.

Like to watch booming drives? Get yourself to the 12th.

But if you want action, real New York action on the course and in the

stands, you want the 17th hole on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park. In a

U.S. Open colored by creative exchanges between players and fans - such as

Sergio Garcia flipping the bird to hecklers on the 16th hole Friday - no hole

consistently matches the creative anarchy of 17.

It is energy and ingenuity, excitement and electricity. It's everything New

York is supposed to be - always loud, usually original, occasionally profane.

And it's one big party from beginning to end.

"This is the hole to be at," Mark Leech said. "It's awesome big-time. It's

crazy, the crowd."

Leech and his pal Paco Sanchez came over from 10, where they made a bet on

the number of times Garcia would waggle his club before his tee shot. Sanchez

set the over-under at 16. Leech took the over and won when the count reached

27. This was their kind of place.

It's the kind of place where Paul Stankowski's tee shot comes hurtling down

and the crowd cries "Bunker!" in delight when it lands, as though Stankowski

had hit the target.

It's the sort of neighborhood where Ontario's Ian Leggatt can putt out and

be greeted with: "Nice shot, Canada, now put that hockey stick back in the bag!"

It's the one part of the course where Corey Pavin can drop his tee shot

into the rough and have a guy yell, "Get in there!" And when the ball listens

and bounces into a bunker, the guy yells with satisfaction, "All right!"

And it's the spot where Germany's Bernhard Langer can linger over a shot

and hear, "Take your time, Bernhard. Sprechen zie Deutsch?"

The popularity of 17 is no accident. It sits close to the main entrance and

the clubhouse, and the green is bordered on both sides by stands and in the

rear by a hill. From the top row of one set of bleachers you can turn around

and watch the action on the first hole. From the end of the other bleachers you

can see 16. From the top of the hill behind the green, you can watch them tee

off on 18.

The fact that the hole is sandwiched by beer-selling concession stands adds

to the levity. And at a straight 207 yards, the entire par-3 is right there.

"The par-3's are the best," said Kevin Robbie, who grew up in Plainview

before moving to Florida. "You can see everything. You get to see the tee shot.

If they get in trouble you get to see a bunker shot, sand saves, the putt,

everything."

Robbie, who attends golf tournaments regularly in Florida and on Long

Island, said: "I haven't seen a crowd like this one."

It was a crowd that reveled in both the torture and the joy, the

well-placed shots and the ones that went awry. Nothing escaped comment, often

while players prepared to putt. Several caddies had to ask for silence.

When John Maginnes' putt lipped out, someone yelled, "It's gotta be the

shirt," a reference to a garish forest scene. They made fun of Jesper

Parnevik's spectacularly diamond-checked shirt, too, and told Charles Howell

III, dressed all in white, that he was hanging out too much with Parnevik.

"This is almost turning into a Mets-Yankees game," Joe Pucci of Hicksville

said. "Tough New York crowd."

Tough on both sides of the rope, as one woman discovered when she doffed

her windbreaker.

"Excuse me, ma'am," marshal Eric Sauer said. "Can you take that jacket off

the rope? A clothesline it's not."

Shortly before 3 p.m., the fans in the stands to the left of the green

turned their backs on Luke Donald's putt. Tiger Woods was on the fairway on 1.

And the wait began.

As the crowd grew, so did the anticipation. At 5:30, a large cry went up

when the leader board showed Woods had bogeyed 11. Fifteen minutes later, there

was another when Phil Mickelson birdied 15.

"Phil, Phil, Phil" greeted Mickelson as he approached the green. Suddenly,

it morphed into "Beat Tiger, beat Tiger." The roar for Mickelson's ensuing

birdie was the high point of the day.

By now, the crowd was heckling cameramen and state troopers, berating them

for obscuring good views of the pin. Until a New York State trooper said, "How

'bout I move you instead?"

When Woods reached 16, they craned their heads, watched him miss a birdie

putt and cheered. And when he placed his tee shot on 17 about eight feet from

the pin, a fan yelled, "Cheater!"

But they applauded when Woods marched onto the green, not the thunderous

reverberation that greeted Mickelson, but more an acclamation generated by awe.

"Whaddya say, Reebok!" one fan shouted as Woods circled the green, sizing

up his putt.

"He's gotta miss it," another yelled.

Then Woods crouched over the ball and the oddest thing happened. Everyone

stopped talking. There was no noise. Absolutely none. The quiet lasted until

Woods made the putt for the birdie that gave him a four-stroke lead.

Figures. With everything else he can do on a golf course, only Tiger Woods

could silence 17.

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