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KRIBEL WANTS TO BE ONE STEP BETTER AT U.S. AMATEUR

PITTSFORD -- Joel Kribel often finds himself wondering what might have been.

What if he had defeated Matt Kuchar in last year's U.S. Amateur final? Would the victory have vaulted his game to new heights? Would million-dollar endorsement offers have been his to ponder? Would he have left Stanford and turned pro?

Kribel can't come up with anything but hypothetical answers. He fell seven holes behind Kuchar through 26 holes last year, a deficit too large to overcome in a 2 and 1 defeat.

"I do think about it quite a bit," Kribel said Tuesday. "Every day. If I had gotten off to a little better start I could have been there too. I played the Masters and the (U.S.) Open, too. But there's just a little something extra for being winner of the United States Amateur instead of runner-up."

If logical progression had a place in golf then Kribel would be assured this year's title. He lost to Stanford teammate Tiger Woods in the 1996 semifinals. Last year he became the fall guy in Kuchar's incomprehensible rise from anonymity to public hero.

Maybe this is Kribel's turn. He shot a 3-under par 66 Tuesday on the West Course and stands to earn medalist honors with a 3-under 136 in the rain-delayed tournament.

"It's would be nice to get, but it's more a matter of confidence to know that you are playing well," Kribel said.

A rematch is possible. Kuchar earned one of the 64 match-play spots by following his first-round 70 with a 2-over-par 72 on the East Course. The three Western New York players in the tournament -- Tim Hume of Williamsville, Frank Broderick of East Aurora and Niagara Falls native Paul Scaletta -- missed the cut.

The final match-play field won't be determined until today. Lightning and heavy rain suspended play for 2 hours, 1 minute beginning at 4:29 p.m. Play resumed at 6:30 but was suspended again at 6:57. About 100 players have rounds to complete.

Kribel's golf was pleasingly boring Tuesday. "I played a really smart round today," he said. "I believe I hit 17 greens and, in addition to my birdies, I had seven more birdie putts of 20 feet or less."

The round was in stark contrast to Monday. Kribel was 5-over par after 13 holes on the East Course and in danger of missing match play. Birdies on four of the final five holes quelled the anxiety.

"I realized that scores would be higher because of the weather, but when I was 5-over after 13 I knew I needed to make something happen," he said. "I thought if I could make one or two birdies coming in for a 72 or 73, it would be good. To make four was beyond what I expected."

Conversely, Kuchar's confidence is somewhere below a full tank. He played his last three holes on the East Course 3-over, his final recollection of the day being a double bogey.

"I'm glad to be safe (into match play), but I didn't leave a good impression on the last three holes out here," Kuchar said. "I missed some short ones coming in and messed up a good round. I would have liked to be medalist, but I'm in the top 64 and it's time to forget about it."

Kribel admitted he was "a little surprised" that Kuchar turned away endorsement offers estimated at $3 to $5 million to defend his Amateur title and return for his junior year at Georgia Tech. He's not sure he would have done the same thing had he been the winner last year.

"I can't say. The situation I'm in right now and the situation he's in is completely different," Kribel said. "I'm definitely going to finish up. I got less than a full load of classes left for next year."

But Kuchar's decision to return has added luster to the proceedings. Kuchar is the darling of the golf world. His absence would have tainted the eventual winner.

"I can kind of see it both ways," Kribel said. "People can't say that the defending champion isn't there so that takes away from the victory. So he is back and he's just another person that you have to try to go through."

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