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The Tour Report

June 17 2010

8:27 PM

Que Bello!!

Rafael Cabrera-Bello couldn’t help but peek at the leader board. Not to put pressure on himself, mind you. Just to savor the moment. The first man off the 10 th tee, a qualifier, a guy who had visa problems in Madrid and whose clubs spent Sunday night in the Philly airport, a guy who was playing in his first U.S. Open -- and his first major, period -- looked up Thursday morning and saw his name on top of the leader board. Did we mention he can also laugh at himself? “I was just enjoying it and almost having a laugh,’’ he chuckled. “What’s going on right here. What am I doing?’’ Leading the 110 th U.S. Open.  First, as the leader in the clubhouse. Then as one of member of the foursome sharing the early first-round lead at 1-under-par 70. “I could only dream about a day like this,’’ said the 26-year-old Spaniard. “I maybe imagined in when I was 8 or 9 years old but never expected something like this. I just wanted to play and get better. Now? I don’t expect anything.’’ Except maybe for this dream not to end. It didn’t start that way. Yes, the 2009 Austrian Golf Open champ did birdie four of his last seven holes to make it here through the U.S. Open qualifier. But then . . . well,  it’s always something. He flew from his home in the Canary Islands to Madrid, where they found a problem with his visa application. He missed his flight to Philadelphia, was cleared, spent the night with his uncle, then flew out the next day. But at the luggage carousel in California . . . you guessed it. His clubs weren’t there. US Air didn’t really lose them, though. “They forgot them in Philadelphia,’’ he said. So, he wound up walking some of the course Monday, got Titleist to lend him a few wedges to limber up with and  .. . . he played his first practice round Tuesday. When he was announced on the 10 th
tee at 7 a.m., he was surprised to see a tiny crowd. “They didn’t  come to see me,’’ he grinned, “but there were some guys there.’’ Maybe they should have followed him. Cabrera-Bello may be ranked 204 th in the world and may have missed his last four cuts on the European Tour, but he took the world’s best to school at Pebble. Four birdies, three bogeys. Steady for an opening Open round, let alone your first one. And your first major round. “I would have been a fool to expect anything coming in here but I played well today,’’ he said. ”It’s my first major and I want to learn just being here and it’s now one shot at a time.’’ His worst shot of the day? This second shot at the 18 th. “I pulled a 2-iron into the middle of the Pacific,’’ he said. “But I was steady for the rest of the round and played smart and didn’t put myself in danger.’’ This is Cabrera-Bello’s first trip West of Arizona. He played “15-20” tournaments in the States as a junior, then another dozen as an amateur. Although he considered a U.S. university, he went to college in the Canary Islands. He’s now in his fourth season on the European Tour – his sister Emma plays on the Ladies European Tour – and his goal is the PGA TOUR. He could have gotten wrapped up in the moment. He could have lost himself – as some do – with the scenic backdrop of the Monterey Peninsula that frames Stillwater Cove. Instead, he learned something about his game and his future. “Today this course, if you lost your concentration for a minute it’s going to beat you and hit you very hard,’’ he said. “I really tried to stay calm and focused n my task and I think I did that.’’ And, yes, everyone’s talking World Cup to him. “They’ll say, “Hey.. how’s soccer going,’’ he grinned. “(I say) Alright. Thank you.’’ Behind him, players walked into the locker room shaking their heads. Pebble had gotten the best of them. Retief Goosen shot 75, Stewart Cink shot 77 and Geoff Ogilvy shot 79. But Cabrera-Bello? He was smiling and ready to go have a bite of lunch with his parents Rafael and Emma. And savor one of the best days of his week. “Right now, finishing my first round with my parents and seeing my name at the top of the leader board,’’ he grinned, “is as good as it gets.’’ -- Melanie Hauser