The Open is al­ways a spe­cial event

DOUG SMITH | CEN­TRAL TEXAS GOLF Ex-Horn Leonard has a way of do­ing well in the ma­jors

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTSBRIEFING -

I love the Masters and I love the U.S. Open, but there is just some­thing ex­tra spe­cial about the Open Cham­pi­onship — don’t call it the Bri­tish Open lest you be tabbed a clue­less Amer­i­can.

I guess it’s the his­tory. I’m a sucker for the old footage of Bobby Jones, Wal­ter Ha­gen, etc. I re­mem­ber as a kid get­ting up early on Satur­day and Sun­day morn­ings to watch in black and white. It was all so in­trigu­ing. And hav­ing the tour­na­ment at the Old Course at St. An­drews this week makes it that much bet­ter.

I al­ways en­joy fol­low­ing the Austin play­ers in the ma­jors, but this week all we have is for­mer Texas Longhorn Justin Leonard.

Leonard is a puz­zling fig­ure this week. De­spite his be­ing a for­mer Open cham­pion, his name has not come up in pre-tour­na­ment talk. One Bri­tish bet­ting house ranks him at No. 36 to win at St. An­drews at odds of 66-1.

That might be un­der­stand­able if you look only at Leonard’s 2010 sea­son. He has missed the cut in six of 16 ap­pear­ances and has only three top-20 fin­ishes. How­ever, one of those was a tie for 14th at the U.S. Open at Peb­ble Beach, where he was in con­tention for most of the week.

My guess is that when Leonard hits Bri­tish soil his game will re­turn to form. His record in the Open speaks for it­self. In 1997 at Royal Troon, he came from five strokes off the lead in the fi­nal round to cap­ture the Claret Jug.

At Carnoustie in 1999, Leonard wound up in a three-man play­off with Jean Van de Velde and even­tual cham­pion Paul Lawrie. Just last year at Turn­berry, Leonard shot a fi­nal-round 68 to tie for eighth, just three shots be­hind cham­pion Ste­wart Cink.

Leonard is mak­ing his 16th ap­pear­ance at the Open. His first was at St. An­drews in 1995 in his first full sea­son as a pro­fes­sional. He tied for 58th.

Al­though they aren’t at St. An­drews this week, sev­eral other Austin golfers have made their mark in the Open. Here are some of their high­lights:

Mark Brooks: The for­mer Texas Longhorn played in the Open 10 times be­tween 1991 and 2001. In 1995 at St. An­drews, he tied for third, just one shot out of the play­off in which John Daly de­feated Costantino Rocca.

The next year at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Brooks shared the first-round lead with a 67 and wound up in a tie for fifth as Tom Lehman took the ti­tle.

Ben Cren­shaw: Cren­shaw played in the Open 21 times be­tween 1974 and 1998. He was run­ner-up twice — in 1978 at St. An­drews, where he tied with Tom Kite as Jack Nick­laus cap­tured the last of his three Open ti­tles. Cren­shaw tied for sec­ond again the next year at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, this time shar­ing sec­ond with Nick­laus as Seve Balles­teros won.

Bob Estes: The Austin pro has said that the Open is his fa­vorite tour­na­ment, and he has made some strong show­ings in it. Estes has seven top-25 fin­ishes in 11 Open ap­pear­ances. His best was a tie for eighth at St. An­drews in 1995.

Tom Kite: Kite has the most Open ap­pear­ances of any Austin player with 22. He has six top-10 fin­ishes, in­clud­ing the tie for sec­ond with Cren­shaw in 1978 at St. An­drews. Kite’s first Open start was in 1976 at Royal Birk­dale, where he tied for fifth.

Joe Ogilvie: Ogilvie had just moved to Austin when he qual­i­fied for the 2001 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. He was largely un­known, even in the U.S., but af­ter open­ing with rounds of 69 and 68 he was just two shots off the 36-hole lead of Colin Mont­gomerie. He quickly be­came a crowd and me­dia fa­vorite thanks to his wit and en­gag­ing per­son­al­ity. He was still in the pic­ture af­ter a third-round 71 but closed with a 75 to tie for 25th.

The Open in per­son

I was lucky enough to at­tend the 1981 Open, which was played at Royal St. Ge­orge’s in Sandwich in the far south­east corner of Eng­land. (It’s where they shot the golf scenes for the James Bond movie “Goldfin­ger.”)

Af­ter a two-hour train ride from London and a bus ride to the course, I fi­nally got there late morn­ing Thurs­day. I glanced at the fa­mil­iar school-bus yel­low score­board, and the three names at the top were Bill Rogers, who would go on to win, Tom Kite and Hal Sut­ton.

I thought to my­self, “Here I have come about seven thou­sand miles to the Open Cham­pi­onship, and the three lead­ers are all guys I have seen play at Mor­ris Wil­liams.”


Justin Leonard, right, and Steve Stricker chat dur­ing a prac­tice round Tues­day on the Old Course at St. An­drews.

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