Formidable group set to chase Hamilton

Posted: Sunday, July 18, 2004

TROON, Scotland Todd Hamilton is used to feeling out of place.

It's strange enough trying to make a living in outposts stretching from Singapore to Pakistan to Kuala Lumpur, or showing up at PGA Tour qualifying school for the eighth time as a 38-year-old father of three.

So he wasn't fazed by seeing his name atop the leaderboard Saturday at the British Open or by a collection of the biggest stars in golf who are not far behind and know what it's like to win a major.

Ernie Els, with two U.S. Opens and a British Open.

Masters champion Phil Mickelson.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.

Tiger Woods, who has won them all.

''I'm sure there is no one in this room that would expect me at least before the tournament started to win,'' Hamilton said after breezing through Royal Troon at 4-under 67 for a one-shot lead. ''And probably not too many expect it to happen tomorrow. It may not. But I will definitely be trying 110 percent.''

It might take every bit of that.

And not just by Hamilton.

''There is pressure on everybody,'' said Woods, whose 68 left him four shots behind. ''Everybody has to play well. You can't go out there and play poorly and win this championship.''

A wacky day of weather along the Firth of Clyde pleasant, strong gusts, cold rain, a stiff breeze, and warm sunshine in the span of about three hours made for a strong leaderboard at Royal Troon.

It wasn't a lot different last year at Royal St. George's, where an unknown rookie named Ben Curtis won the British Open against a collection of world-class players.

''I don't see why it can't happen again,'' said Hamilton, who toiled for a dozen years on Asian tours until finally getting his PGA Tour card for the first time last December.

The only difference is that no one paid any attention to Curtis until he was holding the silver jug, courtesy of a chain-reaction of collapses behind him.

Hamilton will be under the spotlight from the start, holding a one-shot lead over Els. The Big Easy birdied three of the last six holes for a 68 and is playing in the final group at a major for the second straight time.

''A lead doesn't mean a whole lot right now,'' Els said. ''There's 18 holes to play, and anything can happen.''

The man to beat might be Mickelson.

No longer bedeviled by links golf, Lefty has gone 37 consecutive holes without a bogey and got two big breaks down the stretch for a 68 that put him at 6-under 207. Mickelson will play in the next-to-last group with Goosen, the South African who beat him last month at Shinnecock Hills. Goosen had a 68.

''It's cool how we see a lot of top players, and also see quality players you may not have thought on Thursday would be here,'' Mickelson said. ''It's going to make for some very interesting, fun, exciting television.''

Also at 207 was Thomas Levet, who got to 9 under until two gaffes cost him three shots a three-putt from 12 feet for double bogey on No. 12, and two shots to get out of a pot bunker on the 17th for a bogey.

Barry Lane also had a share of the lead at one point, but the 44-year-old Englishman who cost Europe the Ryder Cup in 1993 took double bogey on the 17th and bogeyed the 18th for a 71 to finish at 208.

Woods hasn't been in Sunday contention at a major since the British Open last year, and he gave himself a chance with four birdies on his first seven holes for a 68. Still, the world's No. 1 player has made only one birdie on the back nine all week, and that left him further back than he would have liked.

''I've got a fighting chance,'' said Woods, who will play with Scott Verplank (70).

Former Masters champion Mike Weir birdied two of the last three holes for a 71 and was at 210 with Colin Montgomerie (72) and Skip Kendall, the 36-hole leader who failed to make a birdie in his round of 75.

''This is a hell of a leaderboard,'' Els said. ''This is quality players, players that have proven themselves throughout the years. And you've got some new guys that really want to break through. I think it's set for quite a finish.''

It all starts with Hamilton, who has been in this position before, only a much smaller stage. He lost a four-shot lead in March at the Honda Classic, but birdied the final two holes to beat Davis Love III.

''I'm not one to shy away,'' Hamilton said.

He sure didn't in an exacting third round. Hamilton made simple birdies on the par 5s, holed a 20-foot birdie from the fringe on the Postage Stamp eighth hole and took the lead with a 6-iron that stopped rolling 3 feet from the flag on the par-3 14th. What saved his round were six up-and-downs for par, a glimpse of his grit.

Mickelson needed a little luck.

Flawless the last two rounds, his 3-wood was sailing to the right and he knew he was in trouble. But the ball hit the gallery and settled on a tiny patch of dirt so close to being out of bounds that he was standing on the road.

''It should have gone out of bounds,'' he said. ''It was clearly a tremendous break.''

On the final hole, his drive was headed for the grandstand when it hit the metal railing that holds back the gallery, landing in a decent lie in the yellow grass.

Mickelson has never finished in the top 10 at a British Open. Then again, he had never won a major until this year.

''This year has been different,'' Mickelson said.

For Els, this is a familiar position for him in the majors. He was in the second-to-last group at the Masters and thought he had a green jacket until Mickelson made a birdie putt on the final hole. He was in the final group at Shinnecock, two shots behind Goosen, until he shot 80 in the final round.

Here he is again, one shot behind a guy with neither his skill nor experience.

Hamilton may be the leader, but he's also the underdog.

''On a course like this, the best names are going to come to the top,'' Goosen said. ''And that's what is happening.''

Save a warm, fuzzy spot for Montgomerie.

He grew up at Troon and his support has never been louder, in part because he is going through a divorce. He saved par from a pot bunker on the 15th with a shot struck with such force he tumbled out backward. Monty missed a short par putt on the last hole, but was still only five shots behind.

He even looks as if he's enjoying himself, but don't be fooled.

''This is not fun,'' he said. ''This is a job, and a horrible one, but it might well be all enjoyable when one looks back on Sunday evening.''



CONTACT US

  • Switchboard: 907-283-7551
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-283-3584
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Business Fax: 907-283-3299
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-335-1257
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING

MORRIS ALASKA NEWS