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Maybe This Major Title Isn't Their Cup of Tea

June 27, 2002|THOMAS BONK

What is it about winning the British Open that brings out the worst in a player? All right, not exactly the worst, but mediocre is certainly appropriate, at least in the last several years.

The record shows that since John Daly won at St. Andrews in 1995, the British Open champion has followed one of three paths, all of them bad--not winning again, not winning another major, or slumping miserably after his victory.

Of course, there is an exception named Tiger Woods, who won the 2000 Open at St. Andrews and just about everything else since then.

Maybe there's nothing to this British Open slide trend, but it's worth looking at. It is a strange legacy for the Open that runs totally against the norm.

Consider the case of Mark O'Meara, who won at Royal Birkdale in 1998 and in the three years since, in 73 tournaments, has only six top-10 finishes and no victories. O'Meara, ranked fourth after Birkdale, is 122nd now.

Daly's descent into the ordinary has been puzzling, although he has shown some signs of coming back lately and is No. 45 in the World Ranking. But since he won at St. Andrews, Daly has played 159 PGA Tour tournaments without a victory and with only 11 top-10s.

In 1996, Tom Lehman won his only major, at Royal Lytham, and has one victory in the last six years--two years ago at the Phoenix Open. Lehman was seventh after Lytham, 32nd now.

He was 25 when he broke through with a major title at Royal Troon in 1997, but Justin Leonard hasn't won another big one in five years. In fairness, Leonard has been the most successful of recent British Open champions--again, Woods being the exception. He has four victories, including the 1998 Players Championship and the WorldCom Classic in April. He made the big putt at the 1999 Ryder Cup. But there has been a lot more expected of Leonard in the majors and he hasn't been able to close the deal, although he did make a playoff at Carnoustie.

Ah, yes, Carnoustie. In the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie, Paul Lawrie's victory was a fluke, thanks to Jean Van de Velde's spectacular flameout. Lawrie did win a tournament on the European Tour last year, but that's it in the last three years and he has seen his ranking drop to No. 86. Except for a tie for 11th at the British Masters, Lawrie's best result this year is a tie for 24th.

Woods won by eight shots at St. Andrews two years ago and 11 times since then, including four majors, so the British Open thing hasn't affected him at all.

But that's not the case for the reigning British Open champion. David Duval is working on a 21-tournament winless streak and has missed five cuts in his last seven events, including the Masters and the U.S. Open.

Now, if Woods completes the third leg of his Tour de Slam next month at Muirfield, we'll see if he is still immune to the British Open bug.

Ticket News

The last one ended only 11 days ago, but the U.S. Open is still in the news for two reasons. One, the U.S. Golf Assn. raked in an estimated $100 million for the 102nd Open at Bethpage Black. And, two, the USGA is introducing a computerized random drawing plan for tickets to the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields in Illinois, for anyone who is a dues-paying USGA member.

And while we're on the subject of tickets, if you're thinking about buying some for the PGA Championship in August, you're too late. Tickets for the week, at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., are gone.

According to the general chairman for the event, Minnesotans bought 85% of the tickets. On sale next week: pay-per-view telecast of lame duck Gov. Jesse Ventura ice-fishing.

Notahble Finish

Notah Begay won twice in 1999 and twice again in 2000, but has made five cuts in the last two years because of disk tears. Last week at Hartford, Begay tied for 33rd--the first time he has made the cut in 12 tournaments this year.

Begay, who shot three rounds in the 60s at Hartford, said he is able to sleep through the night without pain and he's playing at Memphis this week.

Said Begay: "I'm not sure if I'm back."

Money News

According to BusinessWeek, Greg Norman's standard appearance fee for a corporate outing is $300,000, only slightly more expensive than Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, whose fees are each $250,000.

Woods' fees for corporate outings are built into his contracts with his corporate partners and he is not available for others.

Business News

Even though his victory came, oh, a week too late, and at Hartford instead of Bethpage Black, Mickelson carried the banner well for Titleist, his primary sponsor. Mickelson won with a Titleist driver, irons, wedges, putter and ball. He used a TaylorMade three-wood.

Meanwhile, Mark Brooks, who was featured in ads for Nike, is going back to Ben Hogan products, produced by Spalding. Brooks, the 1996 PGA Championship winner, is having one of his worst years--10 missed cuts in 17 events and a best finish of 22nd.

Timing II

News item: Sergio Garcia wins a skins game in Canada on Tuesday.

Reaction: He set his watch with Mickelson.

Phil Factor

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