THE BIG FIVE ARE READY TO ROLL
Call it the Tiger Woods Effect: Five players who are battling
for the world's No. 1 ranking--Woods, Ernie Els, Greg Norman,
Colin Montgomerie and Tom Lehman--are at the top of their games
heading into this week's British Open.
Last week, the No. 1-ranked Woods, coming off a victory in the
Western Open, relaxed in Orlando before joining some Ryder Cup
hopefuls for a practice round at Valderrama, in Sotogrande,
Spain, on Sunday. Meanwhile, the other four players had good
showings at the Loch Lomond World Invitational, a two-year-old
European tour event at the Loch Lomond Golf Club outside Glasgow.
Lehman, the defending British Open champ, won by five shots,
shooting a 19-under-par 265 (65-66-67-67), while Els was second,
Norman tied for fourth, and Montgomerie finished 11th. "All five
of us might miss the cut at Troon," says Lehman, "but it's got
to be good for golf if the best players are playing their best
going into a major."
The other four say Montgomerie, who's never won a Grand Slam
event, is the favorite at Troon because he grew up there and
because he's had close calls in so many majors. "Monty is way
overdue," says Lehman. "He's my pick--if I take myself out of
Norman, who broke a 16-month drought by winning last month in
Memphis, seems relaxed and ready. Commuting from his rented
house on the Ayrshire coast to Loch Lomond by helicopter, he had
time to play some holes at Turnberry, where he won the '86
British Open, and Troon, the site of his devastating playoff
loss to Mark Calcavecchia in 1989.
The Shark, however, doesn't put much stock in last week's
results. "It was nice to see, but Troon will be a different
animal," Norman says. "Loch Lomond has fairways three times as
wide as those at Troon. Troon's greens are flatter and slower,
and the last nine is probably the longest in an Open."
A REAL BENDER FOR THE OLD CLARET JUG
The silver claret jug that goes to the winner of the British
Open has had an exciting year while in the possession of Tom
Lehman. A few months ago the trophy was involved in a mysterious
fender bender at the Lehmans' house in Scottsdale, Ariz. Lehman
found the damaged jug on the floor when he came home from a
tournament. "It was behind the couch, down where the kids play,"
he says. "I looked closely and saw that it was bent about 25
degrees, listing to the starboard side." Lehman panicked. "That
trophy is 125 years old," he told his wife, Melissa. "I have to
give it back."
No problem. Lehman had it repaired. But a few weeks ago the
revered trophy had a brush with the law. After a charity event
in Minneapolis at which he had the jug on display, Lehman gave
it to Alissa Herron for safekeeping. Herron, the sister of Tour
player Tim Herron and an employee at Lehman's management
company, went bar-hopping with friends and took the trophy
along. A bartender recognized it, feared it had been stolen and
phoned the police.
An early-morning call to Lehman straightened things out,
although Lehman isn't sure the Royal and Ancient Golf Club will
be so understanding. "That jug has taken some lumps," he says.
"The R&A probably isn't happy. If I win the Open again, they'll
give me a medal and say, 'We'll keep the trophy.'"
IS IT A SENIOR TOUR OR AN LPGA PERK?
Ever since the Senior tour was created in 1980, fans and players
have wondered when the LPGA would follow suit. This week the
women's tour was expected to take the first step by announcing
the new Lilly Legends.
Unlike the Senior tour, the Legends, sponsored by pharmaceutical
giant Eli Lilly, will not be a separate tour but a series of
tournaments within tournaments, like the Super Seniors for
over-60 players on the men's tour. In Legends competitions,
players 40 and older will earn points based on their finishes in
12 designated LPGA events, beginning with this week's JAL Big
Apple Classic in New Rochelle, N.Y., and ending with the
HealthSouth Inaugural in Orlando next January. The golfer with
the most points will earn $125,000 of the $500,000 purse.
We hope the Legends grows beyond this format. Whereas the Senior
tour brought back a generation of players, there is no incentive
for aging LPGA greats such as Betsy Rawls and Kathy Whitworth to
return because they don't stand a chance against the many LPGA
regulars in their 40s--players like Pat Bradley, Nancy Lopez and
Patty Sheehan--who are still competitive.
Until the LPGA's real legends are made part of the equation--how
about raising the age to 50, and adding a dozen spots to
tournament fields for the seniors?--the Legends will be little
more than another perk for a group of players who already have
LOCAL BOY MAKES GOOD AT THE QUAD CITY CLASSIC
David Toms won for the first time in his four-year Tour career
last week at the Quad City Classic at Coal Valley Country Club
in Oakwood, Ill., but the biggest galleries and longest drives
belonged to 24-year-old Sean McCarty, who grew up 60 miles away
in West Branch, Iowa.
McCarty, playing on a sponsor's exemption, was one stroke out of
the lead after opening with a four-under-par 66. He followed
with a 67, then fell back with a pair of 70s. His 273 left him
eight shots behind Toms but in 23rd place--not bad, considering
it was his first start on Tour.
Hundreds of natives of West Branch (pop. 1,867) followed him
every step of the way. "It seemed like half the town was here
rooting for me. I wish I could have done a little better for
them," said McCarty, whose tournament-best 316.5-yard driving
average was 18.1 yards better than that of his nearest
competitor, John Adams, and 11.5 longer than what Tiger Woods
averaged in the event last year.
The 6-foot, 180-pound McCarty learned to play at the Greenview
Golf Club, a nine-hole layout in West Branch owned by his
parents. After graduating from Iowa in 1995 and moving to
Lakeland, Fla., he lined up sponsors who pay him $30,000 a year
with the stipulation that he do nothing but play golf. Before
last week, McCarty's golf career had put more miles on his '92
Mercury Marquis (40,000) than dollars in his bank account
($22,000). His wife, Mundi, has been working three jobs--as a
salesperson in a hospital marketing department, a pottery-shop
clerk and a cosmetics distributor--to make ends meet.
Mundi, however, is due to deliver the couple's first child in
early August, and McCarty realizes it's time for him to either
start producing or find another line of work. "I've got it so
good it's scary," he says. "I really lucked out with Mundi. Now
I need to make up for all she's done for me." The $9,912 he made
at Coal Valley, his biggest payday ever, was a good start.
THE SHAG BAG
Chrysler-Plymouth and Sprint reportedly will drop their
sponsorships of LPGA events. Chrysler-Plymouth has underwritten
the $700,000 Tournament of Champions since 1994, while Sprint
put up $1.2 million, the tour's largest purse, for the
Titleholders, which it has sponsored for five years. Both events
are among the six on network television.... By withdrawing from
the British Open, Scott Hoch became the only player in the top
20 of the U.S. Ryder Cup point standings to take a pass. Hoch,
who was criticized last summer by fellow pros for skipping the
Open, offered no apologies and instead entered the Deposit
Guaranty Classic in Madison, Miss. "I don't care what they
think," Hoch says. "Golf's not a team game."... Cobra will
reintroduce the driver used by Tiger Woods, the metal King Cobra
Oversize, in September. The club was originally marketed in 1992.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN A victory at Loch Lomond might give Lehman the upper hand at Royal Troon. [Tom Lehman acknowledging applause of crowd]
The difference, in dollars, between the winner's checks received
by David Toms at last week's Quad City Classic ($243,000) and
Alison Nicholas at the U.S. Open ($232,500).