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US Open draws few complaints

Jason Gore starts as a PGA Tour Member

Jason Gore has learned a few things since his impressive run at the U.S. Open. The biggest might be to stay poised throughout the highs -- and the lows.

He experienced both at Pinehurst in June, contending through the first three rounds before closing with an 84 and a tie for 49th. It was still the ride of his professional life and there was more to come. Three straight Nationwide Tour victories followed, earning him an immediate promotion to the PGA Tour.

``Hopefully I've become a more matured player and just trying to learn something new every day,'' said Gore, who makes his first start as a PGA Tour member Thursday at the $4.3 million Buick Championship.

It's Gore's third appearance at the TPC at River Highlands, and this time he's hoping to finally make the cut.

``It's always good to come back. Especially here,'' he said. ``It's a good start for me.''

The field includes defending champ Woody Austin, who's been winless on tour ever since. Kenny Perry -- the highest ranked player in the field at No. 10 -- is also chasing the $774,000 first-place prize, along with Paul Azinger, Mark Brooks, Mark Calcavecchia, Steve Elkington, Lee Janzen, Larry Mize, Scott Simpson and Jeff Sluman. PGA champion Phil Mickelson, the 2001 and 2002 winner, is skipping the tournament.

The 31-year-old Gore said he's still adjusting to his newfound celebrity, but has learned from Pinehurst that galleries get behind the regular guy who tries hard. Even after falling well short in the final round, Gore still had the crowd support.

``I didn't play well on Sunday, but I learned something about myself. I didn't walk off the golf course, storm off and break something. I took it for what it was and the crowd at Pinehurst kind of really helped me realize that,'' he said. ``They were still on my side and still showed support. Everything that came out of there was positive.''

The 2004 Buick Championship was one of the few bright spots for Austin last year, who had gone nine years between wins. His 6-foot birdie putt dropped in on the first hole of a playoff, beating Tim Herron.

It earned the former bank teller $756,000 and a two-year PGA Tour exemption. But the 2005 campaign has been a struggle for the 41-year-old journeyman, both professionally and personally. His father Albert died in his sleep the week before the PGA Championship.

Austin arrived at Baltusrol the day after attending his father's funeral and a day before the first round. Exhausted and emotionally drained, he lasted just 10 practice holes that day but would go on to make the cut and finish tied for 66th.

``He got me started in the game and I know he wanted me to play. There's more pressure on me this week than if I was coming and my dad was around,'' Austin said. ``I'm not only trying to compete, but I've also got that little chip on my shoulder. I really want to do it for him and for our families who are going through a tough time.''

Austin became the first winner of the inaugural Buick Championship. The former Greater Hartford Open lost its longtime sponsor Canon three years ago after local corporate sponsorship kept it afloat in 2003, Buick stepped in last year and added it to its string of tournaments.

Austin's only other title was at the 1995 Buick Open.

``It's nice that it did happen again,'' Austin said. ``Anytime you win is a validation for why you're out here.''

 

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