AUBURN – Trying to watch the championship round at the Charlie’s Maine Open is not a spectator-friendly exercise.

And not merely because little, necessary human endeavors like breathing, thinking, picking your nose or shooing away deer ticks make enough noise to coax three dirty looks that put the nuns at your parochial school to shame.

Even if you’re capable of spending five hours impersonating a corpse, the burning question Thursday at Fox Ridge Golf Club was where to lie in state?

The lead group of Shawn Warren, Todd Westfall and Mark Baldwin sounded like a good bet. I mean, really, try to remember the last time you watched a golf tournament and the winner didn’t emerge from the top twosome or trio. Of course, that winner had a killer nickname and a net worth of $50 gajillion, but nevertheless.

Warren, the home state favorite from Windham, promptly sank not one, not two, but three birdies in the first eight holes. Suddenly it didn’t feel as if there was a choice to be made.

Then an episode of “Access Hollywood” broke out.

“Pssst, hey, don’t go over there, yet, but Ricky Jones is 2-under at the turn.”

“Don’t look now, but Bobby Darling hasn’t made a bogey, yet.”

“They’re saying Jerry Diphilippo just made an eagle. Better keep an eye on him.”

Um, great. Now somebody explain how.

Anywhere you roamed along the rolling hills, a compelling story was unfolding before your eyes. Tempered only by the vexing anxiety that you were missing something better two greens back or four fairways ahead.

Now just imagine being a player in this seven-ring circus.

“I thought about it. It crossed my mind a couple of times, but I tried to block it out,” said Baldwin. “I just had to tell myself it doesn’t matter, and I’m not going to go out of my way to try to find out. Regardless, you’re just playing golf. You’re just trying to play up to your potential and forget all the exterior pressures.”

Baldwin, it’s fair to point out, alleviates that pressure by engaging in so many pre-shot ministrations that notorious glove-adjuster, crotch-grabber and rosary-reciter Nomar Garciaparra might holler, “Hit the freaking ball, already!”

Hey, all’s fair in golf and gamesmanship. But what about us poor spectators lacking an outlet for our fears of what we’re missing?

This fateful round of the state’s most prestigious and time-honored golf tournament is a little like watching the NFL on any given autumn Sunday. Once you pick a group to follow, it becomes the team in your home market. You’re stuck with ’em. There is no satellite dish. There is no halftime highlight show hosted by three belly-laughing, has-been hackers to show you what you missed.

I’m sure the 54-hole distance is etched in stone or somehow divinely ordained. By the time Ye Olde Rumor Mill started spinning faster than a Gravitron ride at the Balloon Festival, though, I found myself wanting a fourth day.

Think of the four major championships. Saturday’s third round is universally known as Moving Day. One or two of the pretenders who took advantage of an early tee time or a lack of television cameras prior to the cut comes crashing back to Planet Reality. Some forgotten 40-something invariably shoots 66 and explodes back into contention.

Thirty-six holes don’t leave enough lines of demarcation on the leader board to help anyone in an ill-fitting polo shirt make an informed choice of whom to follow. Especially when the lead group spends the front nine alternately taking your breath away and asphyxiating, themselves.

“I admit was a little tentative starting out, made a couple bogeys, and then the switch flipped inside, and I went after it,” said Westfall. “It seems like I do that sometimes. I’ll start out tentative, make a bogey and then more or less get mad and start golfing.”

Yes, Todd: A year’s supply of thank-yous for saving the day.

While the wind and the law of averages caught up with defending champion Jones, Fox Ridge club pro Darling and the other unwitting subjects at the end of the gossip line, Westfall evolved into a short-game wizard.

Between a birdie at No. 5 and a 94-yard wedge to within a foot for another at No. 17, Westfall shot a sizzling 5-under, rewarding those who embraced their first impression and shaming those who decided to straddle fairways and rubberneck.

“I didn’t really feel any pressure until I made a couple of bogeys and (Westfall) started chipping in from the fringe,” Warren deadpanned.

Funny. Being the starving artist desperate for an angle and the spectator desperate to wipe the sweat off his forehead without getting shushed, that was when all my angst went away.


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