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Parrish man closer to Open

Poor putting put Steve Pleis into a playoff Monday, but one clutch putt got him out of that playoff and halfway to a spot in next month's U.S. Open.

"These greens are tough to

putt," said Pleis, who shot 1-over 71 despite 34 putts in 18 holes.

"They're pretty quick, and the pin placement was good. It always comes down to putting."

The local qualifier on the Pine Barrens course at World Woods Golf Club was one of 96 nationally. Players with the top six scores will join 744 other golfers next month at 12 sectional qualifiers, which will be used to fill out the field of 156 golfers at the 100th U.S. Open June 15-18 in Pebble Beach, Calif.

Pleis, a 33-year-old from Parrish, a small town northeast of Bradenton, emerged from a five-man playoff for the final qualifying spot. On the par-3 10th hole, all five golfers drove to the green, but only Pleis, who was last at the tees and last to putt, was able to sink his putt, a 10-footer, for birdie.

"I had hit it the same distance and missed the same putt (during his round)," said Pleis, who had lost in a playoff the last time he competed in a local Open qualifier in 1994 and now advances to a sectional qualifier June 5 at Bear Lakes in West Palm Beach.

Leading the field with 3-under 67 was Lakeland's David Kirkpatrick, who made the U.S. Open field in 1998 but missed the cut. Kirkpatrick had shoulder surgery in February and was surprised to have recovered quickly enough to compete.

Tampa's Brian Kamm and Orlando's Kevin Dunkin tied for second at 68, joining Brent Shaw of Atlanta (69) and Christopher Reeve (70) as qualifiers.

Kamm, 38, said he will compete in the sectional in Rockville, Md., on the same course he played on in qualifying for the '91 and '94 Opens. In '91, he not only made the cut but stood in third place with nine holes to play. He credited some of his success Monday to a new custom putter he had built by a specialist in California last week.

"I'd been using the same putter for the last two years, but it didn't have enough loft, it was too light and the shaft was too stiff," Kamm said.

Among the four who lost to Pleis in the playoff were the University of Florida's top two players, Camilo Benedetti and Nick Gilliam. Gilliam birdied the second playoff hole to become the first alternate, and Benedetti sank a par putt to finish as the second alternate.

"Obviously, it's disappointing, but who knows what will happen?" said Gilliam, a native of Green Bay, Wis.