By Eddie Southards
The Fayetteville Observer
David Mathis will be playing in his first major when he tees it up Thursday at the U.S. Open in San Francisco, and he can barely contain his excitement.
"I'm pretty stoked," said Mathis, a former Campbell University golfer. "I've played in the Players Championship, but nothing close to this. I'm pretty excited."
For Darron Stiles, playing in the Open is more mundane. This will be the fourth U.S. Open for the Pinehurst resident, although his first since 2009 at Bethpage in New York. The only time he made the cut in an Open was 2003 at Olympia Fields near Chicago.
"Making the cut is obviously my first goal," Stiles said. "I feel like the way I am playing, that is very attainable."
Both Mathis and Stiles had to go through a grueling day of 36-hole qualifying last week to get into the Open.
Mathis, who lives near Raleigh, fairly sailed through, although he had his doubts after he shot 71 in the first round in Columbus, Ohio.
"When I got in, I looked at the scoreboard and saw all these under-par rounds," he said. "I was thinking, 'I've got to shoot 5 or 6 under around this place?'
"I birdied the last hole in the second round to shoot 68. I thought something crazy might happen. If not, I will get two weeks off."
Mathis had nothing to worry about. His 2-under score tied for sixth place and the top 16 made it.
"I was never in the position where I felt good about my score," he said. "I felt like I was behind the whole time. Maybe it was a good thing there were no scoreboards on the course. In hindsight, maybe I will never look at them again."
Mathis, 38, is enjoying one of his best years on the PGA Tour after a rocky start. He missed the cut in 10 of his first 11 events. But he has missed only one cut since April 22.
He is 102nd in the FedEx Cup point standings with more than $564,000 in the bank.
"I finally got my equipment right," Mathis said. "I had been battling that, but I got it dialed in. I'm seeing some results and a little bit of success breeds confidence."
Stiles, 39, is enjoying a good year on the Nationwide Tour. He has won nearly $100,000 and is 16th on the money list. The top 25 at season's end earn their way to the PGA Tour.
Stiles scrambled for pars on the closing holes of qualifying to avoid going to a playoff. He made a 6-footer for par on his 16th hole and and a 5-footer for par on the last hole. He tied for third place at his qualifier in Maryland and the top seven got in.
"It was kind of like that all day, hole after hole," he said. "But I kept making the putts. That's what you have to do in the Open. You have to grind through and accept the fact that you're going to have a lot of 20- to 25-foot putts."
Stiles had never played the Olympic Club, site of this year's Open, until he arrived for a practice round Monday. He is going to rely on his caddie of six years, Rick Goyette, who has walked the course several times.
Mathis couldn't wait to get to the Olympic Club.
"It's a little bit surreal thinking about what it's going to be like," he said. "I've been watching the '98 Open at Olympic Club on TV. It's going to be interesting. I have a good feeling."
Fairmont native William McGirt had the highest finish of his PGA Tour career with a tie for 13th place at the St. Jude Classic last week.
McGirt has won $403,418 this year and stands 109th in the FedEx Cup point standings.
Eddie Southards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 486-3545.