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SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF

Australian Allenby Grows in Stature

May 05, 2000|THOMAS BONK

Once upon a time, the designation "top Australian" was powerful stuff on the PGA Tour. Greg Norman was the unchallenged Mr. Aussie for years, and Steve Elkington was recognized as one of the top players in the world long before he won the 1995 PGA Championship.

There is a chance that 19-year-old Aaron Baddeley will make the list one day, if you look only at his 1999 Australian Open victory over a field that included Norman and Colin Montgomerie. Right now, though, Baddeley doesn't count because he's still an amateur.

Norman hasn't won in three years, and Elkington hasn't won in 13 months, so who's at the top of the Down Under contingent?

That's right, it's Robert Allenby.

No, not best friend and fellow Australian Stuart Appleby, it's Allenby, a 28-year-old from Melbourne who won the Shell Houston Open last week for his first PGA Tour victory.

Allenby is 6 feet 1, but he weighs only 150 pounds and could be mistaken for a two-iron, yet he achieved new status with his playoff victory over Craig Stadler at Houston.

Allenby won three times on the European Tour in 1996 and finished third in the Order of Merit, but the year didn't end well. He suffered facial injuries and broke his sternum in a traffic accident in Spain and, until last weekend, hadn't done much since. His best tour finish last year was a tie for 11th at the Bob Hope.

"I had a few doubts, like, 'What am I doing?' " Allenby said. "You start pushing, trying to get it . . . it's funny, you know."

Allenby said he is grateful he wasn't more seriously hurt in the accident.

"I hit my head pretty hard and for about two years after the accident, I was sort of wondering why I couldn't play the way I did."

He doesn't have to think about that anymore. As they say back home, no worries, mate.

COLIN HOME

How to win friends and influence people, by Colin Montgomerie: Ask for a sponsor's exemption to play the Houston Open, receive an invitation to be honored as a distinguished alumnus at Houston Baptist University, accept an invitation to the Three Amigos charity tournament put on by Fred Couples, Blaine McCallister and Jim Nantz . . . and then chuck the whole thing to play the Spanish Open for an appearance fee.

What is the Houston Open going to do about it? The only sensible thing: offer him another sponsor's exemption next year. Remember, it's business, after all.

HE'S ELIGIBLE

News item: Casey Martin is selected as one of People magazine's "50 Most Eligible Bachelors."

Martin's reaction: "I'd welcome that. It's pretty bleak out here right now."

CLIP AND SAVE

This just in: An organization known as the Golf Course Superintendents has examined the players in the top 20 in the Official World Ranking and chosen the best sportsmen. Phil Mickelson was No. 1, followed by Tiger Woods, Mark O'Meara, Davis Love III and Couples.

Remember that the next time you see one of them throw a club.

ROUGH

Unless they have their fingers crossed behind their backs, we'll have to take the word of the USGA course setup people for the U.S. Open who say the rough at Pebble Beach is going to be only 2 1/2 inches high.

Of course, the greens are going to be faster than John Rocker running in from the bullpen. And they will be hard, too, judging by last week's media day at Pebble Beach. It may be easier to land a ball on the dining room table than the U.S Open greens at Pebble Beach.

This means that although players might be able to advance the ball out of the rough, the chances of spinning it and keeping it on the tiny greens are about as high as Phil Knight's going broke tomorrow.

MONEY NEWS

The early projection on what it will take to make the top 125 on the money list this year is $350,000. The top 125 earners keep their PGA Tour cards.

Last year, the cutoff was $326,893. In 1998, it was $228,304 and only 10 years ago, it was $123,908.

OLD NEWS

For what it's worth: Stadler, 46 years old; Loren Roberts, Brad Fabel and Scott Hoch, all 44, finished in the top 10 last weekend at Houston.

CARRYOUT

Stadler, after losing a four-hole playoff at Houston, when asked what he would take away from the defeat: "Couple of Bud Lights."

SHELL GAME

It's probably going to seem like old times when Jack Nicklaus takes on Gary Player as part of the new season of "Shell's Wonderful World of Golf."

Nicklaus and Player, who have won a combined 27 major titles, will play at Sunningdale in London in the last match of the taped series, Nov. 1, on ESPN.

The other matches: David Duval and Ernie Els on Oct. 3, Vijay Singh and Hal Sutton on Oct. 10, Paul Azinger and Jesper Parnevik on

Oct. 17, and Couples and Mickelson on Oct. 24.

RYDER RIDES OFF

After 14 years as title sponsor of the Doral Ryder Open, Ryder System announced this week that it's pulling out. Tournament officials say they expect to have a replacement lined up within a month and mentioned Buick, Carnival and KSL Recreation as having expressed interest.

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