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Steve Marino
Though he had never played links golf until this week, Steve Marino's shotmaking propelled him up the leaderboard on Friday. (Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Stellar round gives Marino passport to Open leader's spot

After sending his dad racing to Florida to pick up his passport, Steve Marino is making the most of his last-minute trip to Turnberry. After a 68 he said was the best score he could've shot, he's tied for the lead.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- The conversation went something like this.

“Uh, Dad, I need my passport. Would you mind flying to Florida and getting it for me?”

Of course, Steve Marino’s father was more than happy to oblige. So the missile defense engineer headed to the airport last Friday morning, boarded a plane in Washington, D.C., and headed to his son’s home in Tequesta, Fla. 

He found the passport on the dresser in his son’s bedroom. The elder Marino promptly FedExed it to his son, who was playing in the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill., and headed home to Virginia the same afternoon. 

“He had a key,” Marino was quick to add. “He didn’t have to break the window or anything.”

Dad’s $300 plane ticket turned out to be money well spent for Marino. He had called home as soon as he found out he was first alternate for the 138th Open Championship -- and by Sunday morning, Marino was in the field after Shingo Katayama withdrew.

The Cinderfella story continued on Friday, too. The affable 29-year-old Virginian grabbed the lead in his first Open after shooting a 68 in chilly, damp and windy conditions at Turnberry that left him at 5 under. Mark Calcavecchia tied him for the top spot later in the day.

“My parents were super-excited when I got in,” Marino said with a smile. “My mother’s probably having a heart attack right now.”

At least she’ll know her son was dressed for the occasion. By late Thursday, his agent managed to locate some turtlenecks, pullover jackets and a red wool skullcap for Marino, who had been playing in the heat and humidity back in the States.

“So it’s a good thing we didn’t have this day yesterday (when the sun baked Turnberry) or I would have been in big trouble,” Marino said.

Although he’s only played four rounds on a links -- all this week on this scenic layout by the Irish Sea -- Marino is an imaginative sort who can create shots with the best of them. And it showed Friday on a course he said was one of the hardest he’s ever played.

“I kind of see shots before I hit them,” Marino said. “I don't really hit the same shot every time. So I think over here you kind of have to be that way a little bit and hit some low shots and some high shots and bounce them in there and use the slopes. 

“So I've really been enjoying the golf over here, for sure.”

One of those shots came at the 17th hole, where Marino hit a 5-iron off an upslope high into the left-to-right wind from 227 yards out. The ball found the green at the 559-yard par 5 and settled 20 feet from the pin for the eagle that propelled him into the lead. 

“I just started it kind of way left and rode the wind and it came back on the green,” Marino said.

The UVa product also holed a bunker shot and a sand wedge from 116 yards for two of his four birdies. Marino struggled off the tee, though, and called Friday “one of the best scoring rounds I’ve ever had.

“I really don't think I could have shot one stroke less today, to be honest with you.”
 
Marino, who has played in Canada, Mexico and Japan, is making his first trip ever to Great Britain. He hasn’t driven on the left side of the road -- “I think that’s a bad idea,” Marino said, smiling -- but finds the food good, particularly the shepherd’s pie.

“I haven’t tried haggis,” Marino said, referring to the Scottish staple, a pudding made from the entrails of a sheep and minced with suet and oatmeal. “And I don’t think I will.”

On the whole, though, Marino is “having a blast” as he attempts to become the first player since Ben Curtis in 2003 to win the Open in his first appearance. Curtis was also making his first major start, while Marino has made three others.

“I'm just really looking forward to playing golf here the next few days,” he said. “I've really enjoyed myself here, I love the golf course.  I love the challenge that it presents. 

“You have to drive it straight, and most importantly, you have to stay patient and stay positive out there, because once you start getting down on yourself and thinking negatively, it will go bad real quick.”

He’s been playing very well this season, too. Marino picked up the second runner-up finish of his young career earlier this year when he lost to Steve Stricker in a playoff at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. He also has two other top-10s in 2009.

“I'd like to think that a win could be around the corner, but I'm not really thinking about that,” Marino said candidly. “I'm just trying to go out and just play golf every day and just try to get better.”

He may be untested on the links, but Marino understands the need to be patient. He knows the double bogey he made when his ball nestled against the face of the steep bunker at the par-4 sixth on Thursday probably won’t be his last. He also knows enough not to dwell on it.

“I haven't really experienced any nightmares over here yet, knock on wood,” Marino said. “But watching it on TV my whole life I've seen some crazy things go on. And I've got it in my head that some crazy things might happen to me, both good and bad.”

But something really, really good could happen on Sunday if he continues to play as well as he has the first two rounds.
 

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