Hamilton outlasts Els, wins British

PGA Tour rookie takes 1st major in four-hole playoff

Mickelson finishes third, 1 stroke back

`I probably won't sleep for two days'

Els' bogey on 17th in playoff is the difference at Royal Troon

July 19, 2004|By Thomas Bonk | Thomas Bonk,LOS ANGELES TIMES

TROON, Scotland - When exactly did the British Open decide to turn into a coming-out party?

Last year, it was Ben Curtis, ranked 396th, who was king for a day at Royal St. George's, and yesterday in the cool gray early evening, it was Todd Hamilton's turn at Royal Troon.

Truly.

Hamilton, 38, is a PGA Tour rookie and the survivor of eight trips to the PGA Tour qualifying school. He has also survived a dozen years of playing on the Japan Tour.

Now, the pride of McKinney, Texas, by way of such stops along the golf trail as Osaka and Calcutta, is the newest champion of the British Open.

Or, as he was introduced in a ceremony just before dusk in front of the packed grandstands: "The champion golfer of the year."

All Hamilton had to do to earn that title was to shoot a final-round 69, hold off Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, shrug off a bogey at the 72nd hole, then edge Els by one shot in a four-hole playoff.

When it was over, Hamilton raised his arms in triumph and said "Wow," to caddie Ron Levin. Then he found his wife, Jaque, and hugged her, then hugged his three kids.

"I'm so excited, I probably won't sleep for two days," Hamilton said. "It seems like probably a fairy tale. And to me, it really is."

If it was a magical and unexpected victory by Hamilton, it was obviously a bittersweet and disappointing day for Els. The three-time major champion overcame a double bogey at the 10th and closed with a 68, but he could have added another major title to his list if he had managed to roll in a 12-foot, uphill birdie putt at the 18th hole during regulation.

Instead, Els left it just short, which is just how the majors have gone for him this year.

At the Masters, he closed with a 67 and still lost to Mickelson by a shot. At the U.S. Open, he was two shots from the lead after 54 holes and then sunk himself with an 80.

And now this ... a ball that didn't roll far enough, a putt that didn't drop when it should have, a major opportunity falling just out of reach.

"That putt, I'm going to think about that putt for a while," Els said. "I'll try and get over it."

Actually, Mickelson could sort of share the same feeling. He was the hard-luck runner-up to Retief Goosen at the U.S. Open when he made a bogey on the 71st hole, and he missed all the fun of the Hamilton-Els playoff by only one shot, despite a 3-under 68 and only one bogey the last three rounds.

"I didn't feel like it was a lost chance," said Mickelson, whose first round of 73 put him in a hole right from the start.

"To miss out by a shot is certainly disappointing, but I felt after the first day it would have been a lot to get into contention. And I played three very good rounds. Just not enough birdies to make up the ground."

In the four-hole playoff format, Hamilton won it when Els made a bogey at the 17th, the third hole in the rotation, then made a par at the fourth hole, the 18th, and Els failed to steer a curving 15-footer for birdie into the hole.

Hamilton finished at 10-under 274. Mickelson was third, and Lee Westwood's 67 moved him into fourth at 278, with Davis Love III and Thomas Levet tied for fifth.

Not as thrilled with their closing rounds were Goosen, Mike Weir and Woods. Goosen shot a 73 to tie for seventh with Scott Verplank, and Weir ended with a 71, sharing ninth with Woods, who shot a 72.

What started out as a free-for-all wound up as a three-player race on the back nine among Mickelson, Hamilton and Els. For Mickelson, his closing 68 might have been one shot out of the playoff, but his reputation stands by itself these days.

Ever since he won the Masters, Mickelson has gone from the player who could never win a major to the player who looks as if he can win every major.

Hamilton missed the green at the 14th but chipped in to go to 10-under, worth a two-shot lead over Mickelson and Els. Hamilton's lead was still two shots with three holes to play.

All three of them birdied the 16th, but while Mickelson couldn't squeeze another birdie out of his round and fell out of contention, Els and Hamilton were simply getting warmed up.

With Mickelson already done and watching the proceedings on a television in the scorer's trailer, things got a little nutty.

First, it was hard deciding on the correct scenario. It was Hamilton's tournament to win. Then Els birdied the 17th to get to within one shot. Now, it was Hamilton's tournament to lose. Then Hamilton hit it everywhere but the fairway at the 18th, and Els put his second shot 12 feet from the hole. It was Els' tournament to win.

As it turned out, neither player managed to win on the 18th in regulation.

Hamilton knocked his two-iron drive into the right rough and chopped his second shot back across the fairway and into the crowd.

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