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MCKNIGHT UPHOLDS OAK HILL TRADITION, UPSETTING 'EL NINO'

Oak Hill Country Club's tradition as a site of upsets was extended Saturday in the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur Championship.

Tom McKnight, a 44-year-old petroleum distributor from Virginia, spoiled the bid of flamboyant Spaniard Sergio Garcia to win both the British and U.S. amateurs in the same year. McKnight eliminated his more-heralded 18-year-old opponent by taking a three-hole lead after the 17th hole.

McKnight is hardly an unknown in the amateur golf world. He's a former pro who has been ranked among the top 15 in the country much of the past decade. But Garcia is No. 1 in the world, was 36-1 in match play over the past two years and had just eliminated tournament favorite Matt Kuchar on Friday.

"What a day! It's unbelieveable," said McKnight, from Galax, Va. "It's hard to describe the emotions that I felt out there."

McKnight will be the underdog again today when he meets 22-year-old Hank Kuehne in the 36-hole final. Kuehne was a second-team All-America at Southern Methodist last year.

The morning round starts at 10 and the final 18 tees off at 2:45 p.m. (Channel 2's coverage is 4 to 6 p.m.).

Surprises tend to be the norm at Oak Hill. In the '56 U.S. Open, Ben Hogan missed a 30-inch putt on the 71st hole and lost to Cary Middlecoff. In the '68 U.S. Open, unknown Lee Trevino burst onto the golf scene with his first pro win. In the '95 Ryder Cup, the U.S. side blew what was considered an insurmountable lead on the final day and was upset by the European team.

McKnight's upset was built upon his trademark -- steady, straight shots.

"El Nino," meanwhile, did not strike the ball as purely as he had the previous three days. He missed five of the last six fairways and bogeyed two of the last three holes.

"I didn't play as well today as I did yesterday," said Garcia. "He made some good putts and I made some big mistakes, which you can't make in the semifinals."

The match turned at the 181-yard par-3 15th. Garcia pushed his tee shot into the water right of the green, and McKnight put his shot to 8 feet. Garcia made double-bogey and conceded the birdie to McKnight.

"I pushed it a little; what can you do?" Garcia said.

On the par-4 16th, Garcia hit a 315-yard drive in the fairway, and McKnight drove it 295. Garcia put his iron to 10 feet and McKnight put his to 20 feet. McKnight made the putt and Garcia missed to fall two down.

"I hit probably the best drive I hit all day on 16," McKnight said. "I hit a good putt and Sergio lipped his out. That was a real blow to him."

On the par-4 17th, Garcia gambled on his tee shot, hit into trees and made bogey to McKnight's par.

Kuehne had a much easier time, whipping Nevada-Las Vegas' Bill Lunde, 5 and 4. Lunde played the front nine 6-over-par and was six holes down at the turn. Kuehne closed the match after the 13th hole.

Kuehne is best known for rescuing his college career from alcoholism. He was one of the top junior golfers in the country but dropped out of Oklahoma State in 1995 after nearly killing himself in a car accident.

He has been sober since that night, Feb. 3, 1995, and has regained his great form on the golf course.

He is perhaps the longest hitter in college golf and rivals both Tiger Woods and John Daly with his driver.

He also is from a great golf family. His sister, Kelli, won the U.S. Women's Amateur in '95 and '96 and is on the LPGA Tour. His brother, Trip, lost to Woods in the '94 U.S. Amateur final.

Asked to compare his game to McKnight's, Kuehne said, "We're pretty much completely opposite. He hits it short and straight and doesn't make a lot of mistakes or get overly aggressive. I hit it long and tend to hit it off in trouble more and make some great pars."

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