Struggling Storm on wane as heat rises

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The Independent Online

The Rough Guide to Leading A Major Championship says there are two things a rookie must remain: cool and in the moment. Not easy when the mercury is hurtling towards the 110 degree mark and the field are only adding to the sweat running down your neck by breathing down your collar with merciless menace.

So Graeme Storm was discovering here yesterday morning as the excitement of his brilliant first-round 65 was being followed by the inevitability of the unknown pacesetter's backward march. With the 18th to play he was back to level after dropping five shots and heading for a second-round 10 shots worse than the first. After the serenity of the previous afternoon, it was now a case of the imperfect Storm.

Saying that, the 29-year-old from Hartlepool was far from out of it, and was certainly on course to achieve his initial ambition. In the aftermath of Thursday's heroics he said that he had arrived in Tulsa "merely trying to make the cut".

"I came here with no expectations," he added. "I've played every week for the last eight, haven't been playing great to be honest and just went out there and thought to myself 'sod technique, let's just enjoy myself'."

It is fair to say he did exactly that in the only round of the opening day that did not contain a single bogey. But if that remarkable beginning was characterised by consistency and control, yesterday was the opposite. In the first 17 holes Storm recorded just five pars, wedged like strangers in a row of birdies, bogeys and worse. The mayhem began with a five on the par-four second and then another on the third, but was then righted with back-to-back birdies on the fourth and fifth. To his credit, Storm was managing to affix the topsy to the turvy.

What was particularly commendable was the manner in which he bounced back from making a five on the par-three eighth. It was a sloppy duck hook of a tee shot plonking itself down in the rough and when he could not find the green with his second, the mini disaster was imminent. A chip to seven feet, a loose putt past the hole and if the wheels were not yet off, the hubcabs were definitely creaking.

Storm, however, ignored those ominous noises with a nine-iron to three feet on the ninth that was familiar to so many of his other birdies here. Most of them have been kick-ins after sublime approach shots, a quality that has endeared him to the American galleries. In fact the more they have learnt about this long-time friend of Justin Rose's, the more they have warmed to him. Storm's is indeed a touching story.

The image of the struggling journeyman working in a cake factory four years ago was always going to elicit a huge outpouring of good feeling. After winning his first title, the French Open, two months ago, Storm revealed how he was forced to look for the cleaning job after losing his card. "I needed to pay for Christmas presents and although I was earning just under £150 a week, at least it made me feel like I was doing something," he said. "After eight to 10 weeks, I went back to playing on the Challenge Tour in Zambia. I shot 83-78 or something, because I had not played at all over the winter and I didn't really know where my career was going to go. I thought that might be the end, to be honest."

Storm turned to his friends for advice and this is when the Scottish professionals Marc Warren and Steven O'Hara advised he get in touch with the coach, Ian Rae. And so the 1999 Amateur champion began to fulfil his potential. The maiden success in Versailles was overdue for the popular character who has become a mainstay of the leaderboards on the European Tour. Knocking on the door of the world's top 100, Storm has even been tipped as a Ryder Cup dark horse.

Still, nobody had expected him to make this sort of impression on what is only his second American major as a professional after last year's missed cut at Winged Foot. He did play in the 2000 Masters as an amateur, when his mother famously caddied for him, but his experience at this level could, at best, be described as limited.

His showing must be put down to the ever-growing strength of the European Tour and his ability to withstand these extreme conditions down to the Tour's expansion into such countries as Singapore and Malaysia. "I think the conditions that we play in in Asia are a massive help to every European Tour player that's here this week," said Storm.

Ian Poulter was certainly proving that theory correct by going through his first 12 holes in one-under to get back to level par, three back from the American John Senden, the new leader on the course at three-under with four remaining. That was an imposing number as with the heat index forecasted to break 110 degrees, the afternoon starters were set to have the worst of it, with the greens and fairways firming up and the course becoming tougher by the minute, by the sun ray.

It was definitely a hot atmosphere, but some of that could be ascribed to the John Daly effect and the anticipation of seeing whether the 41-year-old could hold it together after his first-round 67. As one American newspaper put it: "This was billed as being the survival of the fittest, but instead has been the revival of the fattest."