Saturday, July 17, 2004

Unheralded American leads diverse Open field

The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

TROON, Scotland - The international flags that line the 18th grandstands can be spotted from every direction here. Players use them to gauge the wind. Spectators use them to navigate their way back to the clubhouse. On a clear afternoon like Friday's they cut a striking figure against a blue sky. Yet it takes a British Open like this one to remind us why they're really there.

Skip Kendall of the United States putts to make an eagle on the 16th.
(AP photo)
Because here we are halfway through play at Royal Troon and there isn't a corner of the globe that won't have an investment in the events of the next two rounds.

An American is in the lead. A Frenchman, an Englishman, and a Korean are right behind. Of the first nine places on the leaderboard, in fact, eight different nations and five different continents are represented, which only underscores a greater point: Every major is a test for world-class players. But it is the Open where that holds especially true.

If the Scottish crowd here pines for one of its own to claim the claret jug, the golf course itself doesn't discriminate along national lines, nor does it care how exactly you got here.

And that might explain the presence of a relatively obscure 39-year old named Skip Kendall atop the Open leaderboard.

Fourteen years and 310 starts into his PGA Tour career, the Wisconsin native holds the distinction of winning the most money on tour without a win. Only twice before this week had he even played in an Open. And yet at 7-under par after a stellar round of 66, it is Kendall who leads a host of pursuers that includes some of the top players in the game.

France's Thomas Levet is one shot back after a 70, England's Barry Lane and Korea's K.J. Choi are two shots back, while Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Troon's own Colin Montgomerie highlight a group of five players at 4-under.

Within reach as well is Phil Mickelson at 3-under par after Friday's 66, and Tiger Woods at 1-under.

It is an imposing group, and for an Open, typically diverse. Even with seven of the top 10 Opens going to Americans, it is this event that has long been recognized as golf's international championship, a tournament that often opens players' eyes to the depth of talent around the globe.

Maybe that's not apparent on a weekly basis. But it is once you return to a venue like Troon, where even relatively tame conditions have forced players to rely far more on creativity than sheer power.

Enter Kendall, at 5-foot-8, 150 pounds, possibly the smallest player in the field, but one who has quickly realized his game is well-suited for links-style courses. It started at last month's U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, where he finished tied for 17th, but has been taken to a greater extreme here.

British Open photo gallery, course map

"I'm maybe getting used to using my imagination a little bit more and what you can do on certain shots, what you can't do, too," Kendall said. "Everyone has always told me that a good shot is really rewarded. And I'm finding out that that's true."

Never was that more apparent than on the par-5 16th, when Kendall reached the green in two with a 3-wood to leave himself 50 feet from the hole. When he walked to that green, Kendall had been tied with Levet. By the time he left, after rolling in the epic eagle putt, he was alone in front. Was this a sign he was ready to break through? Kendall just shrugged his shoulders, but he also maintains his first career win is only a matter of time.

"I really feel like I can win out on the PGA Tour, as well as anyplace else," Kendall said. "Hopefully this will be mine. I think if I can stay relaxed and not get caught up in what we're really doing and just play golf, I'll be fine."

Either way, Kendall needed only to take in his surroundings to see he is a healthy distance removed from the lean years prior to joining the tour. In his mid-20s and struggling to make a living as a golfer, Kendall took a job as a waiter at an Olive Garden near Orlando, Fla. to help pay the bills. Sometimes he'd work just the dinner shift. Others he'd work lunch as well. With no other chance to practice, he'd spend the time in between hitting balls in a nearby field.

"With my bow tie on. I had to keep it on because it was too hard to put back on," Kendall said. "Can you imagine these people driving by on the street looking at me? Black pants, white button-down shirt with a bow tie, hitting balls."

It was a markedly different scene as he holed out on 18 Friday. On both sides were the massive grandstands lining the hole. Off in the corner was his mother, Shirley, who Kendall flew over as part of her 80th birthday present.

Of course, either knew that part of the present was seeing Skip lead the Open. That's not something you expect when you've never won before. Then again, this is the Open, where the predictable is thrown out the window. Maybe the flags atop the grandstands are something you can count on. Everything else remains up in the air.

British Open


At Royal Troon Golf Club

Troon, Scotland

Purse: $7.44 million

Yardage: 7,175; Par: 71

Second Round


Skip Kendall, United States69-66-135
Thomas Levet, France66-70-136
Barry Lane, England69-68-137
K.J. Choi, South Korea68-69-137
M.Campbell, New Zealand67-71-138
Vijay Singh, Fiji68-70-138
Todd Hamilton, United States71-67-138
Ernie Els, South Africa69-69-138
Colin Montgomerie, Scotland69-69-138
Mike Weir, Canada71-68-139
Kenny Perry, United States69-70-139
Retief Goosen, South Africa69-70-139
Phil Mickelson, United States73-66-139
Scott Verplank, United States69-70-139
Rodney Pampling, Australia72-68-140
Kim Felton, Australia73-67-140
Gary Emerson, England70-71-141
Darren Clarke, Northern Ireland69-72-141
Adam Scott, Australia73-68-141
Tiger Woods, United States70-71-141
Gary Evans, England68-73-141
Davis Love III, United States72-69-141
Stuart Appleby, Australia71-70-141
David Toms, United States71-71-142
Marten Olander, Sweden68-74-142
Steve Lowery, United States69-73-142
Alastair Forsyth, Scotland68-74-142
Brad Faxon, United States74-68-142
Rich Beem, United States69-73-142
Shaun Micheel, United States70-72-142
Nick Price, Zimbabwe71-71-142
Chris DiMarco, United States71-71-142
Justin Leonard, United States70-72-142
Kenneth Ferrie, England68-74-142
Joakim Haeggman, Sweden69-73-142
Paul Bradshaw, England75-67-142
Ian Poulter, England71-72-143
Rory Sabbatini, South Africa71-72-143
a-Stuart Wilson, Scotland68-75-143
Lee Westwood, England72-71-143
Mark Foster, England71-72-143
T.van der Walt, South Africa70-73-143
Hunter Mahan, United States74-69-143
Sandy Lyle, Scotland70-73-143
Andrew Oldcorn, Scotland73-70-143
Shigeki Maruyama, Japan71-72-143
Paul Casey, England66-77-143
Takashi Kamiyama, Japan70-73-143
T.Immelman, South Africa69-74-143
Stewart Cink, United States72-71-143
Martin Erlandsson, Sweden73-70-143
Bo Van Pelt, United States72-71-143
Tetsuji Hiratsuka, Japan70-74-144
Keiichiro Fukabori, Japan73-71-144
Raphael Jacquelin, France72-72-144
Mathias Gronberg, Sweden70-74-144
Bob Tway, United States76-68-144
Christian Cevaer, France70-74-144
Jerry Kelly, United States75-70-145
Mark O'Meara, United States71-74-145
Steve Flesch, United States75-70-145
Miguel Angel Jimenez, Spain74-71-145
M.Calcavecchia, United States72-73-145
Paul McGinley, Ireland69-76-145
Carl Pettersson, Sweden68-77-145
James Kingston, South Africa73-72-145
Charles Howell, United States75-70-145
Paul Broadhurst, England71-74-145
Ignacio Garrido, Spain71-74-145
Bob Estes, United States73-72-145
Jyoti Randhawa, India73-72-145
Paul Wesselingh, England73-72-145
Sean Whiffin, England73-72-145

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