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Former St. John's player ready for Open

Andrew Svoboda loved the U.S. Open last year, when he showed up without even having a tee time. Imagine the possibilities this year, when he plays on a course he knows well and tees it up in prime time.

The former St. John's player from Larchmont will open the Open at Bethpage Black -- site of his 2007 New York State Open win -- at 7:44 a.m.Thursday alongside Henrik Stenson and Steve Stricker, both of whom are world-class players who arguably have a chance to win this week.

Svoboda was promoted from alternate to full-fledged replacement Friday when Robert Karlsson withdrew because of an eye ailment. Instead of reshuffling the draw, the U.S. Golf Association just plunked Svoboda into Karlsson's high profile spot, hardly the sort of place a mini-tour player usually gets.

"I like it. Those are good pairings," Svoboda said Monday on his way to the driving range at Bethpage, before a practice round. "It was great last year, I played with Davis Love and Justin Leonard. It was a great experience."

That he was still around on the weekend at the 2008 U.S. Open was a major upset, considering he was the second alternate and thus not allowed to practice on the course at Torrey Pines before the tournament. He learned at 11 a.m. during the first round that he was in, and still made the cut.

So who knows what might happen this year, given that he has a good feeling about the Black. Sure, this is vastly different, but does his experience help? "Of course," he said, wearing a golf shirt with a true New York flavor endorsement -- Junior's of Brooklyn. "I played here in probably seven or eight New York State Opens. It's still a tournament on the course set up like the [U.S.] Open."

"He will do well this week. He played on the Nationwide Tour a couple weeks ago and `top-25'd,' " said Jesse Fitzgerald, his former St. John's teammate and a fellow former State Open champion, who caddied for Svoboda Monday.

"Basically, I asked him," said Fitzgerald, now an assistant pro at Garden City Golf Club. "It's a day off and I thought it would be fun to get out here. I don't know if I'll be able to get out here the rest of the week.

Doing well on the Black is a far shot from finishing tied for 14th in the Rex Hospital Open, which is the result Fitzgerald was talking about. Then again ...

"I think this kid has always been a warrior," said St. John's coach Frank Darby, who will watch Svoboda practice Tuesday and play Thursday. "I don't think anything fazes him. You never know."

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