Leonard's strong week

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The Independent Online
Justin Leonard would have broken the course record at Valhalla in the USPGA Championship but for missing a tiny putt at the 14th hole. "How can you miss a two-footer?" he was asked by a golf writer. "Have you ever misspelled anything before?" Leonard remarked.

Leonard, whose 66 in the second round equalled what was the course best before Russ Cochran's 65 yesterday, would have had no sympathy from his mother, Nancy. "She hasn't three-putted in 12 years, at the last count," Leonard said. "She's amazing with a putter, especially inside eight feet. I wish I could putt like her."

What has been remarkable about Leonard's performance is that he had only completed eight holes in the first round on Thursday when play was disrupted by a thunderstorm. He had to get up early the next day before playing 28 holes. "I'm not pretty good at anything at 7.30 in the morning," Leonard said.

Leonard, 24, from Dallas, turned professional two years ago, and has won $1,516,348. He came into the USPGA on a high after winning the Buick Open last Sunday - his first victory on the US Tour- with rounds of 65, 64, 69 and 68 to finish 22 under par. He will not finish 22 under here, even though he gave dogged pursuit to Phil Mickelson and Cochran yesterday.

"Last week was a big relief," Leonard said. "It was just a great feeling. I'm still thinking about last week in between shots and rounds. I've been playing pretty well and last week it all came together."

Leonard, who won the US Amateur Championship in 1992, missed the halfway cut in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham with an aggregate of 147. Leonard, who had two top-10 finishes on the US Tour prior to the Open Championship, cannot forget the day he lost the chance to win the Phoenix Open at the start of the year. He lost it on the third play-off hole to the local hero, Mickelson, the left-hander he partnered in the third round at Valhalla yesterday.

Leonard lost that play-off in front of 156,875 spectators. It seemed that 156,874 people were cheering for Mickelson, the affirmed Arizona State star. "The last three holes in Arizona were disturbing," Leonard said. "That's about as nice as I can be. I've never been to a Ryder Cup, but for a foreign team that was probably what it's like."

Yesterday, the majority of the crowd were supporting not Mickelson or Leonard but Russ Cochran, a good ol' Kentuckian who misses more cuts than he makes. As Mickelson and Leonard slipped up over the back nine in the third round, Cochran picked up the torch - another southpaw, he was holding it in his left hand. "Anybody within five strokes of the lead can still win," Greg Norman said. "It's going to be a bunfight."

Mickelson, at 26, two years the senior of Leonard, has never won east of the Mississippi. More significantly, he has never won a major, but he is now in a position to become only the second southpaw (the New Zealander Bob Charles won the 1963 Open Championship) to win one. At eight under par after his 74 yesterday, he is three shots off the lead.

Mickelson, who lives in Scottsdale, has won three times on the US Tour this year and is a certainty to take on the Europeans in the Ryder Cup next year. From Valhalla to Valderrama.