Golf: Bickerton smiles his way to top

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The Independent Online
SHOULD, IN some bizarre parallel, anyone want to audition members of the European Tour for the parts of the Seven Dwarfs, they would find plenty of candidates for Grumpy and a few for Dopey. But for the part of Happy they would have to turn to just one man, Droitwich's John Bickerton.

Bickerton has remained relentlessly cheerful throughout a career that, until recently, consisted of more lows than highs. Rarely has he completed a campaign on tour with his card for the following season intact, let alone by March. A fine start to the season, with five top-10s, culminating in a runners-up finish at the Portuguese Open, was followed by an inevitable slump. Two weeks ago, an 81 in Germany led to his fourth successive missed cut.

The 29-year-old could have cut his losses, taken some time off and spent some of the pounds 135,372 he has earned this year. Not a bit of it. In the first round of the English Open, Bickerton scored a 64, eight under par, and was matched only by Australia's Geoff Ogilvy. Sweden's Mathias Gronberg was two behind but a trio of leading stars, defending champion Lee Westwood, PGA winner Colin Montgomerie and Nick Faldo, were all on two under.

Montgomerie, having only played nine holes in the pro-am since his win at Wentworth on Monday, was clearly easing himself into his last tournament prior to the US Open in a fortnight's time.

In contrast to his poor performances in the country of his birth, Monty currently holds each of the English tournaments on the tour, except this one. To his Benson and Hedges and Volvo PGA wins of the last month can be added the Victor Chandler British Masters from last September and the 1997 European Grand Prix. Last year's event at Slaley Hall was washed out.

Faldo was pleased to be on level terms with the Scot. He had an eagle at the 17th to thank, a 40-footer that almost reached Essex and so surprised the three-time Open champion that he broke into a smile and doffed an imaginary cap to the gallery. Faldo was not happy with his work on the greens, however, but despite his plunge to 133rd in the world rankings, he is currently above Montgomerie in the putting statistical categories.

Bickerton could not be less like Montgomerie or Faldo. He has played in all but one of the 15 events on tour this season. "I have played a lot but it's a job I enjoy and one a lot of people are dying to do," Bickerton said. His form followed on from seven weeks in America during the winter when he won five mini-tour events.

"I couldn't be one of these guys who don't touch a club for three months. I'd feel guilty. Even when I'm off I play with the lads at Droitwich and my dad.

"Monty has a natural talent which unfortunately I haven't got. I am one of those who worked bloody hard at it and hope to get the benefits. I dread to think how many balls I hit compared to him. It is nice to perform in one of the bigger tournaments but what will be, will be. As long as I keep enjoying it and putting in the odd good round, I'll be happy."

Whatever, this autumn will bring a new experience. Instead of struggling to get his card, or going to the Qualifying School, Bickerton's wife, Julie, is expecting their first child.

Ogilvy, a professional for less than a year, thinks he may be a descendant of Robert the Bruce. The 21-year-old sorted out his swing after e-mailing video images of it to his coach, Dale Lynch, in Melbourne. Six birdies and an eagle three proved the power of technology.

Scores, Digest, page 27