Estes beats darkness to finish one back at Western Open

Friday, July 5th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LEMONT, Ill. (AP) _ The sun was sinking, the shadows were growing and most of the fans had left the Dubsdread Course hours ago.

When the horn sounded to stop play for the night Thursday at the Western Open, though, Bob Estes was only half a hole from finishing. He didn't even consider stopping.

``It's nice to go ahead and finish up the round, keep it like it normally is,'' Estes said. ``An hour that early in the morning can make a difference.''

The fading light didn't hurt his game at all. Estes birdied his final hole to finish at 6-under 66, one stroke behind David Gossett.

The first round of the Western had to completed Friday morning after rain interrupted play for almost 3 1/2 hours Thursday afternoon. There were still 50 players on the course when darkness fell, including two at 5 under and six at 4 under.

``These things are going to happen and we know it's going to happen,'' Estes said. ``You just have to deal with it and come back out and get after it again.''

Davis Love III, who finished second last year after leading the second and third rounds, is lurking again at two strokes back. John Cook, Jonathan Byrd and Scott Verplank joined him at 2-under 65.

Defending champion Scott Hoch shot par-72.

``It was worth it for us,'' said Love, who was right behind Estes when the horn sounded. ``And then it turned out we all birdied it, so it was even more worth it.''

The weather was hot and sticky in the morning, making the greens firm and slick. Misplay a ball, and it shot off the green like a SuperBall.

But the storm that rolled through dumped rain on the course, softening the greens.

``It probably made things a little bit easier,'' said Estes, who has won once this year and has three other top-10 finishes. ``They were as soft as you could imagine. Instead of having to worry about balls bouncing past, you're worried about spinning back too much.''

Estes was 2 under and on the 15th hole _ his sixth of the day _ when the rain came. He spent the break in the locker room, working on his putting and stretching.

He came back out and birdied three of his last nine holes.

``I just putted real well today,'' he said. ``I played smart, putted well, had some good iron shots. Didn't drive it very well, so I think we're going to use a different driver (Friday).''

Gossett had no complaints. Though this is his first trip to the Western Open, his uncle lives in nearby Westmont so he's played the Dubsdread Course before.

His comfort showed. Starting on the back nine, he birdied Nos. 14, 15 and 16, making putts from within 20 feet each time. He picked up steam on the front nine, with birdies on four of the first six holes.

He ran into a little trouble on the par-4 No. 7, sending his tee shot into a trap about 120 yards short of the hole. His second shot landed on the green, but it was about 45 feet downhill from the hole and he three-putted for a bogey.

Gossett stared at the sand trap when he finished putting, shaking his head slightly.

But his funk didn't last long. On his final hole, the par-5 No. 9, his third shot hit the back of the green and rolled toward the cup, stopping about 4 feet away. As the crowd roared, one fan yelled, ``Way to finish, David!'' Gossett smiled and waved his cap.

Good things seem to happen for Gossett in Illinois. His only tour victory came last summer at the John Deere Classic in Silvis.

``I certainly like the Chicagoland area and this is a great golf course,'' he said. ``There are three more rounds, but it's nice to get off to a great start.''