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Steve Marinos first round at the 2008 AT&T National was memorable for two reasons: the affable Fairfax, Va.-native boasted the tournaments rowdiest gallery and, for a time, sat atop the leaderboard.
When the event kicks off at Congressional Country Club on Thursday, Marino figures to be closely followed by a big gallery filled with friends, former classmates and family. Whats less certain, though, is how hell perform on one of the PGA Tours toughest courses.
Its always really exciting for me to come back and play at this tournament having grown up around here, said Marino, a graduate of W.T. Woodson High and the University of Virginia. I kind of mark this tournament down every year as something I look forward to.
Theres something else thats got him looking forward to it this year hes finally healthy.
Marino missed four months earlier this season with a knee injury. In the three tournaments since his return, including the U.S. Open two weeks ago, hes missed the cut.
Complications with his left knee occurred following surgery to repair a torn meniscus last October. At the Sony Open in January, Marino endured excruciating pain each time he bent over to read putts.
I pulled my pant leg up and my knee was just really swollen, a lot of fluid in it, Marino said.
After playing through the pain for two more weeks, he was diagnosed with a condition called avascular necrosis.
At first I thought I was going to miss a few weeks and be back, Marino said. But I ended up having a bone contusion on the tip of my tibia and femur. There was no blood flow to the area, so it wasnt healing.
Basically, my bone was dying, he continued. They wanted me to stay off it, non-weight bearing stuff.
So, for the next 16 weeks, Marino, a normally active 32-year-old who likes to fish, was reduced to a couch potato who occasionally slept in a hyperbaric chamber.
No boating. Definitely no fishing, doctors orders.
It was pretty boring for a few months, he said with a smile. Watched a lot of TV. I think Ive seen every movie thats ever been made.
Since returning to the Tour last month, Marino has struggled to regain his form, failing to reach the weekend in any of his three outings. At the U.S. Open, he fired an 84 and followed it up with a 78.
Still, he likes his chances this week, in part, because his knee feels much stronger.
Hopefully Ive knocked most of the rust off, said Marino, who has almost 9 million in career earnings but is still seeking his first PGA Tour victory. I just need to get one solid round under my belt then I can start rolling a little bit.
Marino will certainly have the support of a large and loyal gallery, even if his supporters are less boisterous (and minus a guy wearing green shorts emblazoned with pink flamingos) than before.
Some of them might have matured a little bit the last couple of years, Marino chuckled, referring to his hometown buddies. So it might be a little bit tamer. And also, that year I think I had the first round lead. So everybody was really excited. They were pretty rowdy.
Marino may not be among the favorites to win, but if youre looking for a personable underdog to follow, hes your guy.