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Barnes Storms to U.S. Open Lead

The guy who once punted for the New England Patriots had just watched his son set a scoring record for the U.S. Open. Boy, this must have really reminded him of the glory days in the NFL.

Except, Bruce Barnes said, for him there weren't that many glory days.

He did play two seasons with the Patriots, right?

"Back when they were no good. That's why they drafted me."

But then, the Patriots must have needed a punter in 1973. A 3-11 team's offense usually does.

"Not me, for long."

He got a game ball once, but he'd really rather talk about his son's golf. After Saturday, who wouldn't?

It has not been all rain and mud at Bethpage this week. Ricky Barnes has gotten in 36 holes, bogeyed only one of them, and leads the tournament with an 8-under 132. His name might stay at the top awhile, since the weather forecast for Sunday sounds like it came from a rainforest.

Already, he's part of history. No man ever owned a 132 after two rounds of an Open, until now.

"Could I have predicted I would shoot 132? No," Barnes said Saturday. "Did I know I had it in me? Yeah."

Bruce had a nice football career at UCLA, a short one with the Patriots. But his two sons fell in love with golf. At Bethpage this week, 28-year-old Ricky is playing, 31-year-old Andy is the caddie. Bruce watches, and there must be moments when he remembers it was easier punting out of the end zone against the Dolphins.

"I probably didn't get an hour's sleep last night," he said.

Ricky Barnes' most astounding accomplishment here so far may be somehow playing two full rounds without needing an umbrella. Timing is everything this week. The wave of starters lucky enough to miss the rain had 12 scores under par after two rounds. The foul-weather wave -- say hello, Tiger — had three.

Everyone knew Barnes' potential back in 2003, when a confident young flash out of the University of Arizona finished 21st at the Masters. He was top amateur, outscoring his playing partner by seven strokes in the opening round.

The partner? Oh yeah, Tiger Woods.

Great things were sure to follow. That was the plan, anyway.

"He was the golden boy," his father said. "By playing so well, Ricky was going to be the next Arnold Palmer, and it basically put more pressure on himself."

Ricky started tinkering with his swing, his frustration rose, his performance dropped. He couldn't play his way out of the minor leagues. The years went, as did the small Nationwide Tour paychecks. He finally qualified for the PGA Tour this year.

"He just believed he was good enough to get out there right away," said brother and caddie Andy. "There are a lot of good golfers in this world that you've never heard of. He thought 'I can just compete with everybody.' He just didn't know everybody was that good."

His temper was like Old Faithful, with regular eruptions. Andy has a habit of stashing his cell phone in the golf bag. Ricky went at the bag so hard, the cell phone looked like a bowling ball had landed on it. Twice.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't really ticked off the first two or three years," Ricky said. He had been a top college player. Now he understands what that meant, and didn't mean.

"That guy in basketball is going to get drafted in the top 10," he said. "He's going to get a three-year stint and settle down in the NBA. Probably come off the bench ... but he's going to get guided.

"Here, you get kind of thrown into the pack of wolves and go to Q school and you have to earn it. But I like it. The only guy I can blame is the guy in the mirror, and that's why I love this sport."

A screwy sport, it is. When the second round of the U.S. Open ended Saturday, Ricky Barnes, struggling Tour newcomer, led Tiger Woods, master of the universe, by 11 shots. How to explain that?

Said the NFL punter's son, "I've grown up."

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