Western Open winner Jerry Kelly already had his ticket, but 15
others earned a trip to Muirfield in Illinois
The road to Muirfield goes through...Lemont, Ill.? It's true.
While Jerry Kelly won the Advil Western Open at Cog Hill's
Dubsdread Course in an entertaining duel with Davis Love III
(who would be platinum level in a Frequent Runners-up Club),
several other players duked it out in a tournament within the
tournament. Fifteen qualifying spots into next week's British
Open were available--seven for the top money winners from the
Western, the four events leading up to it and the Players
Championship who were not already exempt, and eight more for the
highest Western Open finishers not already exempt.
The main goal for all the competitors at the British will be
stopping Tiger Woods, who was a no-show at Cog Hill. Woods had
planned to play in his sixth consecutive Western but pulled out
due to flulike symptoms, possibly a delayed U.S. Open hangover.
"He told me he was toasted--just exhausted," said Tour veteran
John Cook, who lives near Woods in Windermere, Fla. The
disappointment over Woods's exit was not universal, however. "I
figure we just added three-quarters of a million dollars to the
purse and cut 10 minutes off the driving time from my hotel to
the course," said Brandel Chamblee.
Without Woods, the tournament's focus turned to Muirfield, which
will host the Open for the first time since Nick Faldo won there
a decade ago. "If Tiger is going to win all four majors this
year, this might be the hardest one," said 1994 British champion
Nick Price. "It's a shotmaker's course. It's not long, just over
7,000 yards. It's not about killing the ball; it's about
position. There were only six or eight guys who hit it long
enough to win at Bethpage. There's triple that many who could
win at Muirfield."
Steve Stricker, a Wisconsinite like Kelly, earned a berth into
the British Open. He shot a final-round 65 to come in 13th,
making a par save on the 72nd hole with a dicey sand shot to a
pin on a severe slope. He canceled a fishing trip to northern
Wisconsin that he had planned if he didn't make the British, but
he didn't care. "I hate to miss majors, and the thought of
missing this one was grinding on me," he said.
Another player to watch at Muirfield is Peter Lonard, an
Australian who played his way into the British by tying for
fifth at the Western with Stuart Appleby, Neal Lancaster, Chris
Riley and Duffy Waldorf, all of whom also earned British berths.
Lonard, a 34-year-old world traveler who has quietly moved to
28th on the money list in his rookie Tour season, recently
bought a house in Orlando and plans to sell his residence in
Berkshire, England. "I like this Tour," he said. "When you have
time off, you can actually practice because it's not raining.
I'm here until you can get rid of me." Though Lonard has never
played Muirfield, he said, "I take it for granted that it's like
every other British Open where you've got to hit it five feet
off the ground. That's me. I can hit it lower than anyone. I
can't wait to get there."
Lonard's charge bumped David Gossett out of the British Open.
Gossett, a former U.S. Amateur champion, had competed at
Muirfield in the '98 British Amateur. "I remember a practice
round when it was cold, windy and raining sideways," Gossett
said. "I was loving it. Everybody else was in the clubhouse
saying, 'Who's that crazy guy?' It was awesome."
He's not going back this year. His road to Muirfield dead-ended
in Lemont. --Gary Van Sickle
DAVIS LOVE III needs to lighten up on the guys who help pay the
freight. A few inappropriate remarks is a small price to pay for
genuine enthusiasm from the fans. More galleries, not fewer,
should emulate the mouthy masses who electrified Bethpage at the
Nick Faldo apparently will get a challenge for the 2004 European
Ryder Cup captaincy from Germany's Bernhard Langer, who, unlike
Faldo, will play for the Euros in the Sept. 27-29 match at the
Belfry. With political pressure mounting for an Irishman to be
named captain when the Cup is played at the K Club near Dublin
in 2006, and with Ian Woosnam and Colin Montgomerie earmarked
for future matches in Wales (2010) and Scotland (2014),
respectively, Langer's best shot at the job might be in '04.
"I've always said that I'd like to be captain once I don't think
I can play myself onto the team," says Langer, 44, who has an
18-5-5 record in nine Cup appearances. "I'm getting to that
Brandt Jobe might not take advantage of the British Open
qualifying spot he earned by finishing third at the Western
Open. Jobe's wife, Jennifer, is eight months pregnant with their
second child and likely to have a Caesarian section by the end
of this month. Asked whether he'll make the trip to Muirfield,
Jobe replied, "I have to talk to the chief."
Several Tour players are still rankled by the derisive comments
made last month by some of golf's elder statesmen concerning the
failure of today's pros to challenge Tiger Woods. "Tiger would
beat the brains out of all those guys," says John Cook, who
finished fourth at the Western. "He and Jack [Nicklaus] would be
a great duel every week, but I'll take Phil [Mickelson], Ernie
[Els] and Retief [Goosen] against [Lee] Trevino, [Arnold] Palmer
and [Billy] Casper."
Is the day approaching when we'll see an 8,000-yard course on
Tour? Greg Norman thinks so. "We are hitting the ball 10 percent
farther than [we did] eight years ago," says Norman, who
finished 57th at the European Open in Ireland. "I would estimate
there is 10 percent distance still to add to protect a course.
That means you've got an 8,000-yard course in six years."
LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw spent last week calming players'
concerns over the tour's 2003 schedule. Three weeks ago the
Naples (Fla.) Memorial folded because, after having lost its
sponsor, Subaru, in October, it hadn't been able to find a
replacement, and Votaw is still trying to shore up regular stops
in Hawaii, Tucson, Phoenix and Nashville.
Gordon Begg, owner of the Swilken, a three-bedroom house
overlooking the 1st and 18th holes of the Old Course at St.
Andrews, has put the famed residence up for sale for 1
million[pounds]. Built in 1914, the Swilken is one of only three
houses that abut that part of the course.
VOTE AT GOLFONLINE.COM
THIS WEEK: Would you rather see Tiger Woods win the Grand Slam or
Phil Mickelson win his first major?
LAST WEEK: The U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open have 18-hole
playoffs on Monday, while the U.S. Senior Open has a three-hole
playoff on Sunday. Which format do you prefer?
--Based on 3,080 responses to our informal survey
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER DOUBLE PLAY Kelly is one of four multiple winners on Tour this year.
COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS O'MEARA/AP (LANGER) CAPTAIN CRUNCH Langer's best shot to lead Cuppers is '04.