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First Published: July 19, 2004Written by: Andy Smith
Rookie Hamilton wins British Open
PGA Tour Rookie, Todd Hamilton, came through a gripping final round plus an additional four hole playoff against world number two, Ernie Els, to lift the Claret Jug at Royal Troon on Sunday. In doing so he continued a tradition of Americans winning The Open when it is held at this challenging links course on the west coast of Scotland that dates back to Arnold Palmer's victory in 1962. He also became the eighth American to win the "British" in the last ten years.
But "Rookie" is rather a misleading tag for this 38 year-old who now has won a dozen tournaments in his professional career, including four last year which also earned him third place on the Money List, in Japan that is. In fact, apart from his debut PGA Tour victory in March this year at the Honda Classic, all his wins have come in the Far East. Although qualifying for a PGA Tour card has given him problems in the past, it's not something he'll have to worry about for at least another five years, now that he has a major title to his name.
Hamilton started play on Sunday with a one shot lead on minus 8 but by the time the final pairing of Hamilton and Els reached the turn they were sharing the lead with Phil Mickelson on minus 9. Of the three, Hamilton was considered by most to be least likely to win but I commented at the time that I thought he was playing more consistently than his celebrity co-leaders. A few holes later he held a two shot lead over the pair after chipping in for birdie on the 14th while they had dropped shots earlier on the back nine. The trio all birdied 16 and then Els closed the gap to one shot with another birdie on the 17th. Mickelson parred the final two holes to finish with a nine under par total of 275.
So, after four days of great golf it came down to the 72nd hole. While Els was setting himself up for a 15 foot birdie putt, Hamilton appeared to be throwing it away, finding the rough first on the right then on the left of the fairway. Eventually finding the green, he missed his par putt leaving Els a chance to take the championship. He missed, and under Open Championship rules the pair set off to play four more holes - 1, 2 , 17 & 18 - to try to find a winner. They both parred the first and second holes but Els was unable to find the green on the par three 17th and made bogey to fall one behind with one to play for the second time in less than an hour. Unbelievably, he found himself facing an almost identical birdie putt on the 18th green and again failed to sink it, leaving Hamilton to hole out a three footer for par and the championship.
Els had to settle for runner-up spot in a major for the second time this year having missed out to Mickelson in an epic battle at the Masters. With their U.S. Open second and tied-ninth placings respectively, Mickelson and Els are the only two players to have finished in the top ten at all three majors so far in 2004, with just the U.S. PGA Championship next month remaining to be decided.
England's Lee Westwood completed the best weekend of the tournament with a final round of 67 to follow Saturday's 68 and took fourth place with a six under par total of 278. His 4-under par round on Sunday was all the more remarkable for the fact that he started off badly, making bogeys on the third and fifth holes. He came back with three consecutive birdies from the sixth hole and three more on the back nine including a 40-footer on the 18th to finish as the highest placed Briton at the event.
Long-time leader Thomas Levet of France, who was victorious at the Scottish Open the week before, finished with a round of 72 to take a share of fifth place with Davis Love III on 279. Love finished off his four under par round with a spectacular eagle from the 18th fairway. A shot further back, tied in seventh place on 280 were Scott Verplank and U.S. open winner, Retief Goosen.
Tiger Woods extended his major drought to nine but managed a top ten finish after a brief challenge for the lead with a couple of birdies on the front nine. Three dropped shots after the turn gave him a round of 72 and a share of ninth place with 2003 Masters winner, Canadian Mike Weir.
Enough has been written over the last few weeks about the conditions at Shinnecock Hills for this year's U.S. Open but I have one final comment on course set-up for major golfing events. Last week the Royal & Ancient got it 100 percent right, in my humble opinion. There were no silly low scores, the best round was only five under par and only four players managed that all week. Only 15 players completed 72 holes under par, on what was clearly a challenging course, but the viewing public were treated to four days of top quality golf that was a joy to watch. I admire high ideals but the USGA needs to remember that their major tournament is not contested behind closed doors. Professional golf is a spectator sport and the bulk of revenue comes from contracts with the television networks. I, for one, expect the best players in the world to be allowed to display the talent that sets them apart from us mere mortals, as they did in Scotland last week.