Lehman's record total finally claims major

THE 125TH OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP Tim Glover reports from Royal Lytham
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The Independent Online
Tom Lehman yesterday became the first American professional to win the Open Championship on the Lancashire links despite playing his worst golf of the week. Lehman shot 73, two over par for the round, but his aggregate of 13 under for the championship eclipsed Seve Ballesteros's record by two strokes. "It was not pretty," Lehman said, "but it was gritty."

Lehman finished two shots in front of Ernie Els and Mark McCumber and three in front of his playing partner, Nick Faldo. Lehman held a six-stroke lead going into the final round, the same margin that Greg Norman enjoyed in the Masters at Augusta last April. On that occasion Faldo won by five, but yesterday his putting let him down. Generally his play from tee to green was impressive, but he could not make any of the crucial putts when it mattered.

Perhaps Lehman's victory was overdue. The 37-year-old journeyman was runner-up to Steve Jones at the US Open in Detroit last month, third behind Corey Pavin in the same championship in New York last year and was pipped for the Masters at Augusta by Jose Maria Olazabal in 1994, the year he was also third in the US Open at Oakmont. His interests, which seem slightly at odds, are church activities and hunting. The kirk with the dirk.

The basis for Lehman's triumph was his course record of 64 in the third round when he putted brilliantly. On Saturday evening, he said: "Tee to green I'd give myself 8 out of 10. On the greens I'd give myself 10 out 10." Yesterday he said: "I didn't play well at all. I had no rhythm and my putting stroke felt like lead but I ground it out. I did not have my game but I hung in there."

Fortunately for Lehman, Faldo also had his worst round of the tournament. "I had so many chances and I was unable to take them," he said. "It was as simple as that. I could not get a putt away and I never really challenged him." Faldo never got closer to the man from Arizona than three strokes, and it was the pairing two groups ahead who had the best chance of catching Lehman.

Fred Couples had five birdies on the front nine, at which point he was 12 under par, only two behind Lehman. Couples then found a reverse gear and his partner, Ernie Els, probably had the best chance of closing on Lehman. Els got to 13 under with a birdie on the 15th but he dropped shots at the 16th and the 18th. "I had everything going for me," Els said, "but I couldn't finish it."

At the first hole, Faldo hit a corker to within about five feet of the flag and somebody in the sunbaked crowd yelled: "Nick you've got him by the goolies." It is just as well that Lehman is not familiar with such a term and the balance was slightly restored at the third where somebody said: "Come on Tom." Lehman acknowledged the remark but a few holes later he had to put up with: "Knock it in the rough Tom." It made him more determined.

Lehman was in huge trouble at the par-five sixth, where he drove into the middle of a clump of bushes. He hacked it out about 40 yards, his third shot found the edge of a bunker, he chipped to about three feet and made the putt to save par. Faldo's putt for a birdie lipped out. When Faldo had his first bogey of the day, at the 15th, Lehman probably relaxed for the first time in the round.

"What a difference," Lehman, who won pounds 200,000, said. "It wasn't so long ago that I was playing on the mini tour just trying to make expenses." Not even the appearance of a male streaker at the 18th could ruin Lehman's day. "I thought the one at Wimbledon was a lot better," he said. Royal Lytham had a scorched earth look and it was because of the heat that Faldo predicted a good week for the Americans. "I would like to say a big thank you to the guy up there in charge of the weather," Lehman, a born-again Christian, said.

Tiger Woods, the American amateur champion, had a 70 and finished at three under par for the championship with an aggregate of 281. Twenty- two years ago that would have been good enough to have won the championship, beating Gary Player by a stroke. The consolation for Woods is that he received the silver medal as leading amateur, equalling the record score set by Iain Pyman at Royal St George's in 1993.

Not that Woods, of course, was aware of this. "I had no idea," he said. And this from a student of economics at Stanford University. "I was after the claret jug," Woods said. Not only did he not have time to study Lytham's history, he did not even have the chance to explore the delights of Blackpool. "When you are a golfer," he explained, "you are on the course all day, either playing or practising and when I get home I rest." He's aged 20. The last American to win the Open at Lytham was Bobby Jones, the greatest amateur of all. Woods has another two years at Stanford. "I will know when the time is right to turn professional," he said. "As soon as I get there I'll tell you."

Jack Nicklaus, Woods's senior by 36 years, was four strokes adrift of the prodigy following a final round of 73. "This may be my last Open for a while," he said."I think I'll be back for St Andrews in the year 2000 but I don't know what I shall do about the ones in between. I enjoyed the week, especially the first bit. I played two decent rounds and then faded to oblivion.

"I really thought I could do well because the conditions suited me. Power and length were not so important. The fans gave me a great reception and the walk down the 18th is still one of the greatest things in golf. I thank them very much for that but I would rather play good golf than have a great reception." If he had played good golf for four rounds he would have brought the old clubhouse down.

If power and length were taken out of the equation, it might explain the demise of the defending champion, John Daly. Yesterday he began bogey, bogey, bogey, double bogey en route to a 77. "I hit only one bad shot and lost five strokes," Daly said. "That's the British Open I suppose."

n Sandy Lyle went straight from the Open Championship to a hospital in Telford today after being told his mother had suffered a heart attack. Lyle's father died earlier this year after entering the same hospital for septicaemia.

YESTERDAY'S FINAL ROUND SCORES FROM ROYAL LYTHAM

(GB or Irl unless stated)

271

T Lehman (US) 67 67 64 73

(wins pounds 200,000)

273

M McCumber (US) 67 69 71 66

E Els (SA) 68 67 71 67

(pounds 125,000 each)

274

N Faldo 68 68 68 70

(pounds 75,000)

276

J Maggert (US) 69 70 72 65

M Brooks (US) 67 70 68 71

(pounds 50,000 each)

277

P Hedblom (Swe) 70 65 75 67

G Norman (Aus) 71 68 71 67

G Turner (NZ) 72 69 68 68

F Couples (US) 67 70 69 71

(pounds 35,000 each)

278

A Cejka (Ger) 73 67 71 67

D Clarke 70 68 69 71

V Singh (Fiji) 69 67 69 73

(pounds 27,000 each)

279

M McNulty (Zim)) 69 71 70 69

D Duval (US) 76 67 66 70

P McGinley 69 65 74 71

S Maruyama (Jap) 68 70 69 72

(pounds 20,250 each)

280

M Welch 71 68 73 68

P Harrington 68 68 73 71

L Roberts (US) 67 69 72 72

R Mediate (US) 69 70 69 72

281

M James 70 68 75 68

J Haas (US) 70 72 71 68

*T Woods (US) 75 66 70 70

C Mason 68 70 70 73

S Stricker (US) 71 70 66 74

282

B Crenshaw (US) 73 68 71 70

T Kite (US) 77 66 69 70

P Broadhurst 65 72 74 71

C Pavin (US) 70 66 74 72

P Mitchell 71 68 71 72

F Nobilo (NZ) 70 72 68 72

283

E Romero (Arg) 70 71 75 67

T Tolles (US) 73 70 71 69

S Simpson (US) 71 69 73 70

E Darcy 73 69 71 70

D Gilford 71 67 71 74

M O'Meara (US) 67 69 72 75

H Tanaka (Japan) 67 71 70 75

B Faxon (US) 67 73 68 75

284

M Calcavecchia (US) 72 68 76 68

P Mickelson (US) 72 71 72 69

K Eriksson (Swe) 68 75 72 69

285

C Stadler (US) 71 71 75 68

B Mayfair (US) 70 72 74 69

P Jacobsen (US) 72 70 74 69

T Hamilton (US) 71 70 74 70

B Hughes (Aus) 70 69 75 71

P Stewart (US) 70 73 71 71

R Boxall 72 70 71 72

J Nicklaus (US) 69 66 77 73

N Price (Zim)) 68 73 71 73

J Furyk (US) 68 71 72 74

J Parnevik (Swe) 72 69 69 75

286

J Payne 72 71 73 70

S Lyle 71 69 73 73

R Allenby (Aus) 74 68 71 73

S Ames (Trin) 71 72 69 74

287

M Jonzon (Swe) 69 73 73 72

D A Weibring (US) 71 72 72 72

J Sluman (US) 72 70 70 75

B Barnes 73 70 69 75

288

C Suneson (Sp) 73 69 74 72

C Rocca (It) 71 70 74 73

G Law 74 69 71 74

289

D A Russell 70 72 74 73

B Ogle (Aus) 70 73 73 73

J Daly (US) 70 73 69 77

290

H Clark 72 71 76 71

291 B Charles (NZ) 71 72 71 77

292

D Hospital (Sp) 75 68 77 72

R Todd (Can) 74 69 73 76

C Strange (US) 71 72 72 77

R Chapman 72 70 70 80

293

R Goosen (SA) 72 71 74 76

298

A Langenaeken (Bel) 72 71 77 78

*denotes amateur

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