Sunday, July 18, 2004

Unlikely Yank leads British


Major champs are chasing Hamilton

By SAM WEINMAN
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

TROON, Scotland - This part he never even considered. Through all those years crossing the globe - a dozen or so immersed in a foreign land - Todd Hamilton never was one to try to distract himself with daydreams.

One day, the 38-year-old Illinois native often thought, he'd like to come back to play full-time in America. Maybe he could even win a PGA Tour event. But etching his place in history? That was perhaps beyond his grasp.

BRITISH OPEN AT A GLANCE
A brief look at Saturday's third round of the British Open, played at the 7,175-yard, par-71 Royal Troon Golf Club (all times EDT):

Leading: Todd Hamilton (67) at 205.

Trailing: Ernie Els (68) at 206.

In the hunt: Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen and Thomas Levet are at 207, while Tiger Woods is at 209. Ten players were within five shots of the lead, and five of them were major champions.

Tiger Tales: Woods was 3-under through four holes, but could only play even par the rest of the way for a 68.

Good break: Mickelson's drive on the 15th hole was heading out of bounds but hit some spectators and stayed in.

Shot of the day: Hamilton's 6-iron to 3 feet on the par-3 14th hole to take the lead.

Lefty's streak: Mickelson has gone 37 holes without making a bogey.

Noteworthy: Hamilton spent 12 years playing in Japan before winning his tour card on his eighth try in December. He won the Honda Classic earlier this year.

Quoteworthy: "Anyone who says this is fun is joking and they're having a laugh. This is not fun and this is not enjoyment. This is a job and a horrible one, but it might well be all enjoyable when one looks back Sunday evening around 7 p.m." - Colin Montgomerie.

Key pairings: Todd Hamilton and Ernie Els, 9:30 a.m.; Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen, 9:20 a.m.; Scott Verplank and Tiger Woods, 9 a.m.

Television: Sunday, 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., TNT; 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., ABC.

Only there was Hamilton walking alone up the 18th fairway at Royal Troon amidst a slow drizzle early Saturday evening. The grandstands were full. The yellow scoreboard was hovering over his left shoulder. Had he turned around, he could have seen the names of golf's biggest stars stacked one on top of the other. And yet Hamilton also would have seen his own name occupying the highest spot.

Amazing, when you think about it. A year before, Hamilton was an expatriate star in Japan, still looking to earn his card on the PGA Tour. He was rich, successful, and in his home country, completely anonymous. Now in staking the lead through three rounds of the British Open, the question isn't whether the golf world knows his name, but whether they'll remember it much beyond Sunday.

At 8-under par after a spotless 67, Hamilton will be charged with staving off many of the game's A-listers in the final round at Troon - from Ernie Els one stroke back to Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen two behind to Tiger Woods within reach at 4-under par.

It could be considered an unenviable position for a home-grown player who hadn't competed, or won, on the American tour until this year. But it's also one in which Hamilton knows he has nothing to lose.

"I'm sure there is no one in this room that would expect, at least before the tournament started, for me to win," Hamilton said. "Probably not that many expect it to happen tomorrow. It may not happen. But I will definitely be trying."

And why not? If we've learned anything about major championship golf in the past 12 months, it's that name recognition alone doesn't carry you far. A similar scenario arose at last year's Open Championship, with everyone from Woods to Vijay Singh to Davis Love III in contention late. Only it was the upstart Ben Curtis who snuck up on everyone to claim the claret jug.

"I don't see why it couldn't happen again," Hamilton said.

Perhaps, but a number of players certainly hope differently. Start with Els, who at 7-under par finds himself in a familiar position: in contention late in a major. At the Masters, it was a remarkable run that was surpassed only by Mickelson's. At the U.S. Open, it was a three solid days followed by a torturous 18 holes on Sunday, when he shot 80 to finish in a tie for ninth. One way to look at is the 34-year-old South African hasn't made good on two promising opportunities this year. But Els says just getting that far was something.

"There's so much pressure out there in these tournaments that to be in contention, it takes a little bit out of you," said Els, who shot 68 Saturday. "But I've really shaped my career to play these tournaments well. That's what I live for now."

Mickelson might say the same thing. With a Masters title and a second-place finish at Shinnecock, the left-hander is clearly the dominant player in the game these days, someone who committed himself to changing his style of play in majors and is now seeing it pay dividends. But if the U.S. majors are one thing, the Open Championship is another. In 11 straight appearances here, Mickelson has never cracked the top-10 and has only one finish inside the top-20. But having now gone 37 holes without making a bogey, Mickelson's transformation has clearly had an impact overseas as well.

"It is fun. Normally I'm watching it on TV," Mickelson said of being in contention here. "So it's very nice to be one of the later groups and have a great chance."

Mickelson will be paired in the second to last group with Goosen, who outlasted him in the final round at Shinnecock. That week it was Goosen's putting, along with his unflappable demeanor, that propelled the South African to his second career major. If there's going to be a third here, it will likely be the result of a similar combination.

"It's a great leaderboard up there. It will be somebody that shoots a low round that will win," he said. "On a course like this, the best names are going to come to the top and that's what is happening."

Well, almost. Because muddying the picture is Hamilton. Last year at this time, prior to making his way through Qualifying School, Hamilton never would have expected to be here. Even after breaking through with his first PGA Tour win at the Honda Classic in March, he figured a tournament like this was an altogether different level.

"I really didn't look at the majors as an ultimate goal," he said. "My goal was to get on the PGA Tour. It took me quite a long tome. But I'm kind of glad that it worked out that way, having some struggles here and there and fighting back to achieve my dream."

British Open
Saturday
At Royal Troon Golf Club
Troon, Scotland
Purse: $7.44 million
Yardage: 7,175; Par: 71
Third Round
(a-amateur)

Todd Hamilton, United States71-67-67-205
Ernie Els, South Africa69-69-68-206
Phil Mickelson, United States73-66-68-207
Retief Goosen, South Africa69-70-68-207
Thomas Levet, France66-70-71-207
Barry Lane, England69-68-71-208
Tiger Woods, United States70-71-68-209
Scott Verplank, United States69-70-70-209
Colin Montgomerie, Scotland69-69-72-210
Mike Weir, Canada71-68-71-210
Skip Kendall, United States69-66-75-210
Lee Westwood, England72-71-68-211
Nick Price, Zimbabwe71-71-69-211
K. J. Choi, South Korea68-69-74-211
Shaun Micheel, United States70-72-70-212
Davis Love III, United States72-69-71-212
Kim Felton, Australia73-67-72-212
Kenny Perry, United States69-70-73-212
M.Campbell, New Zealand67-71-74-212
Mark O'Meara, United States71-74-68-213
Paul Casey, England66-77-70-213
Justin Leonard, United States70-72-71-213
Bob Estes, United States73-72-69-214
M.Calcavecchia, United States72-73-69-214
Tetsuji Hiratsuka, Japan70-74-70-214
Keiichiro Fukabori, Japan73-71-70-214
Bo Van Pelt, United States72-71-71-214
Trevor Immelman, South Africa69-74-71-214
Stewart Cink, United States72-71-71-214
Takashi Kamiyama, Japan70-73-71-214
Andrew Oldcorn, Scotland73-70-71-214
Hunter Mahan, United States74-69-71-214
Ian Poulter, England71-72-71-214
Joakim Haeggman, Sweden69-73-72-214
Paul Bradshaw, England75-67-72-214
Stuart Appleby, Australia71-70-73-214
Gary Evans, England68-73-73-214
Darren Clarke, Northern Ireland69-72-73-214
Rodney Pampling, Australia72-68-74-214
Vijay Singh, Fiji68-70-76-214
Jyoti Randhawa, India73-72-70-215
Steve Flesch, United States75-70-70-215
T.van der Walt, South Africa70-73-72-215
Kenneth Ferrie, England68-74-73-215
Brad Faxon, United States74-68-73-215
Adam Scott, Australia73-68-74-215
Sean Whiffin, England73-72-71-216
Miguel Angel Jimenez, Spain74-71-71-216
Rory Sabbatini, South Africa71-72-73-216
David Toms, United States71-71-74-216
Ignacio Garrido, Spain71-74-72-217
Charles Howell, United States75-70-72-217
Paul Broadhurst, England71-74-72-217
Bob Tway, United States76-68-73-217
Mathias Gronberg, Sweden70-74-73-217
Raphael Jacquelin, France72-72-73-217
Shigeki Maruyama, Japan71-72-74-217
Steve Lowery, United States69-73-75-217
Gary Emerson, England70-71-76-217
Jerry Kelly, United States75-70-73-218
Christian Cevaer, France70-74-74-218
Carl Pettersson, Sweden68-77-74-219
James Kingston, South Africa73-72-74-219
Mark Foster, England71-72-76-219
Rich Beem, United States69-73-77-219
Paul McGinley, Ireland69-76-75-220
Martin Erlandsson, Sweden73-70-77-220
a-Stuart Wilson, Scotland68-75-77-220
Chris DiMarco, United States71-71-78-220
Marten Olander, Sweden68-74-78-220
Paul Wesselingh, England73-72-76-221
Alastair Forsyth, Scotland68-74-79-221
Sandy Lyle, Scotland70-73-81-224




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