Fisher deserves all the compliments

Teenager's stunning revival confirms star status
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The Independent Online

It was the short but firm piece of advice that Tiger Woods offers everyone. "Never give up on a tournament no matter how bleak it looks," he would have told young Oliver Fisher during their brief meeting in September. Yesterday, the precocious teenager proved he does not need telling twice.

There have been more famous 65s in golfing history, but few have underlined a talent so indelibly as Fisher's in the third round of the South African Open. If the world already knew he was good enough, now it must acknowledge he is old enough and, just as importantly, gutsy enough. The 18-year-old's comeback in Port Elizabeth really has been that stunning.

On Thursday evening he was down and almost certainly out of his second tournament as a professional after an opening round of five over. It was inevitable that the doomsayers would put this 77 next to the 75 and 77 with which he had finished last week's Alfred Dunhill Championship and say here is the evidence of yet another "next big thing" joining the paid ranks way too soon. Fortunately, Fisher was not listening. No, this Ollie was more intent on getting out of another fine mess he had just gotten himself into.

"It was like those last two rounds last week," Fisher said from Humewood Golf Club. "I was a little too aggressive and was then pushing too hard to recover. All I needed was to go out and play my normal game. Just as I did throughout Q school."

Armed with that fresh memory of becoming the youngest Briton ever to gain his Tour card at the living hell that is San Roque, Fisher quickly and very surely played his way back into the tournament; first with the 67 on Friday that saw him scrape inside the cut and then with yesterday's eight-birdie spectacular that took him on to seven under and within sight of the top 10. Nobody but the runaway leader, Trevor Immelman, had played the last 36 holes any better.

But then none of them, not even Ernie Els, had arrived on the circuit in such a hail of expectation. Ever since the Essex boy became the youngest competitor in Walker Cup history, aged just 16 in Chicago last year, British golf has had its future champion. No less an authority than Peter McEvoy declared Fisher as the "best young player I have ever seen" - and McEvoy has seen them all recently, including Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald and Paul Casey - and it was little wonder that his decision to turn professional last month was accompanied by the sound of ringing tills.

IMG had been lining Fisher up for a while and with good reason, because deals with Nike and BMW will soon be joined in "Oliver's family of sponsors", says a spokesman, "by a company in the financial services sector". Not quite Michelle Wie with bum fluff, but nevertheless the male game's nearest thing.

It is refreshing to discover that Fisher has none of "the big I ams" that, alas, characterise the Wie camp. Fisher has stayed loyal to his untraditional roots, still employing the coach, Chris Jenkins, who gave him free lessons as a nine-year-old at a driving range in Chigwell and wisely utilising the services of his father Rupert - a former fruit-and-veg wholesaler - as caddie and travelling partner. Furthermore, in Brendan Taylor, the son of snooker legend Dennis, IMG have assigned a manager who has gained an understanding of handling teen sensations by his association with Nick Dougherty. It was Taylor who cannily fixed up for Fisher to meet Dougherty a few times, just as he did with Woods and Justin Rose.

"Tiger was great when I met him at the HSBC World Match Play, just as Justin and Nick were," says Fisher. "All offered me sound advice, and I learnt a lot from Justin. My situation's a bit different to his when he started out, though, as I already have the comfort of having a full Tour card [Rose had to rely on invites]."

Just as Fisher's start to professional life has been that "bit different". Rose missed his first 21 cuts; Fisher has made his first two. Not a bad comparison.