Estes' quest to qualify for Ryder team in doubt

In position for final spot, he flops, waits to be saved


August 16, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

MEDINAH, Ill. -- Brad Faxon did it in 1995, shooting a 63 and tying for fifth at Riviera. Jeff Maggert did it two years later, shooting a 65 to tie for third at Winged Foot. Both earned their way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team with their respective final-round performances in the PGA Championship.

It seemed for a while yesterday that Bob Estes was going to do the same thing in the final round of the 81st PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club.

After getting to 5-under par through the first 14 holes, and 8-under for the tournament, Estes needed only to play the last four holes 1-over par to wind up tying Nick Price for fifth. It would have been good enough for Estes to finish 10th on the U.S. team's points list and knock out Maggert, who had missed the cut here.

Instead, the 33-year-old Texan made bogeys on both the par-4 16th hole and par-3 17th, then missed a last-ditch birdie try on the par-4 18th. A final round of 3-under-par 69 left him one shot behind Price on the scoreboard and less than 14 points behind Maggert on the final Ryder Cup list compiled over the past two years.

"I can't remember where it was where I looked at the scoreboard for the first time to have an idea of where I stood, but I knew I was right there," Estes said later. "That was the first tournament all year where I had the Ryder Cup on my mind. But I don't think it affected the way I played, really."

Now Estes will have to wait until today's announcement by U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw, who will make his two wild-card selections known at an 8 a.m. news conference.

One of the picks is likely to be two-time Ryder Cup veteran Tom Lehman, whose history of playing well in both the biennial competition as well as in the U.S. Open bodes well. Another is Lee Janzen, a two-time Open champion who has played twice in the Ryder Cup but missed the cut here.

The Ryder Cup will be played at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., next month, a course that has been an Open venue three times, most recently in 1988.

Estes didn't seem confident of going.

"I don't have the experience of a [Fred] Couples or a Lehman," said Estes. "But my game's getting better and I like tight courses with rough around the greens."

Aside from Lehman and Janzen, Crenshaw has a number of potential candidates. The most likely seems to be Couples, who has played in five Ryder Cups but has played infrequently and not very effectively this year. Others being mentioned seriously include Steve Pate, who finished 14th on the points list and Chris Perry, who finished 15th.

"I think everyone is hoping for a call," said Couples, who finished 17th on the points list after coming in tied for 26th here at 1-over-par 289. "I never told anyone I didn't want to be on the team, but I feel like everyone looks at me like I should be on the team. I'm trying to say if I'm not playing well, I shouldn't be there. Am I playing well? I feel like walking around this week I hit a lot of good shots. I think whoever he picks will go and do fine."

Couples, who will turn 40 in October, has been a captain's choice for the past two Ryder Cups, where he has compiled a 4-3-1 record in successive defeats to Europe. Pate was supposed to play on the 1991 team at Kiawah Island, S.C., but was injured in a freak automobile accident there the week of the event and couldn't play. Perry has never been on the team, but he ranked near the top of the PGA Tour in birdies the past two years.

"It's very unlikely, but it's not out of the question," said Pate, who finished tied for eighth here after struggling with his game the past two months.

Perry had an interesting turn of events yesterday. He ran into Crenshaw on the way to the practice range before the round.

"He said to my caddie as we were walking on, `I want you to have a good day, I just want you to know you are very high on my list, so play well for me today,' " recalled Perry, who shot a 1-under 71 to finish tied for 10th at 3-under 285. "I had a little high step going to the range. I would love to play, as any American would, and love to represent their country. It's the Olympics of golf."

Are you listening, David Duval?

What happened to Weir?

Third-round co-leader Mike Weir had played in the final pairing three times before this season, and performed admirably without winning. He even had experience playing with Tiger Woods, having finished second to Woods while playing together in the last round of last month's Western Open.

Yesterday was a bit of shock to the 29-year-old left-hander from Canada. He three-putted four times, making six bogeys and a double-bogey in a round of 8-over 80 to drop into a tie for 10th at 3-under-par 285.

"There was a big change in the speed of the greens and I didn't adjust to it well at all," said Weir, who wound up taking 35 putts. "I had every spike mark in the world in my way, it seemed like. Whatever could go wrong, did go wrong. It really surprised me, especially on the back nine."

Most of the time, the crowd was pretty sympathetic to Weir, a former junior hockey player.

But after Weir bogeyed the par-4 sixth hole, one fan yelled, "Stick to hockey."

Tough crowd.

Tough day.

U.S. Ryder Cup team

Members of the U.S. Ryder Cup team who won automatic berths on points.

Tiger Woods David Duval

Payne Stewart Davis Love

Mark O'Meara Hal Sutton

Justin Leonard Jim Furyk

Phil Mickelson Jeff Maggert

Pub Date: 8/16/99

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