SAN FRANCISCO — The putt on the last hole hurt, and so did Casey Martin's leg. He limped off the final green uncertain of his chances of playing on the weekend, though that didn't seem to matter to the crowd gathered on the hillside above.
They rose to applaud the effort, if not the score. Then they watched as Martin left his golf cart behind and bounded up the 40-some stairs to the clubhouse, forgetting for a moment the price his right leg might pay for it later.
Despite missing the cut, he shot two respectable rounds on a brutally tough golf course, not bad for a guy who hadn't competed seriously for six years.
His rounds of 74-75 shouldn't have been too surprising, because the talent has always been there. It's the leg that's always been the problem, though Martin wasn't about to use it as an excuse.
"The biggest thing is actually just thinking like a great player," he said. "That's the challenge when you haven't done it and you have some bad shots that creep in there."
Martin is 40 now, and his day job is being the golf coach at Oregon, not chasing Tiger Woods in the majors. That he was able to get through qualifying rounds and make the Open for the first time since it was held here 14 years ago was remarkable enough, even if he didn't have a circulatory disorder that he thought by now might have taken his right leg.
He engaged the PGA Tour in a court battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court so he could ride in a cart and play professional golf. But his career on the big tour lasted only a year, and he became a golf coach after tiring of fighting to make cuts on the Nationwide Tour.
This might be his last hurrah, though Martin isn't about to concede it. But this time he made sure he heard the applause, made sure he would remember the support shouted out his way on every fairway and green.
"It's flattering to be here to get attention like this and as a competitor I'm disappointed right now," he said. "These are experiences that don't come around very often, to get to play in a U.S. Open in these conditions. So it's a special week."
Watching Martin hit a string of precision shots Friday was a reminder of the talent that made him a teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford and got him a tie for 23rd when the Open was last played here in 1998. Watching him limp from his cart to his ball and back was a reminder that all that talent couldn't overcome a bum leg.
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