Putts not pints rule Bladon's life

125Th OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP: Walking fairways with the greats inspires county player to start taking it seriously; Richard Edmondson listens to the Amateur champion who has given up his bar job to concentrate on golf two decks

These days, it seems, they play the amateur championships over a course on Brobdingnag. Twelve months ago the winner who earned an exemption for the Open was Gordon Sherry, the 6ft 8in Scot who made the St Andrews stands tremble as he pounded the fairways.

This afternoon another behemoth will grapple with Royal Lytham when Warren Bladon carries the flag for the unpaid, but there the connection between our two amateur winners will perish.

Sherry, you will remember, was the articulate biochemistry student from Kilmarnock who had a professional career mapped out with great precision. Bladon, on the other hand, looks like a bloke you might find on the door of a pub, which would not be far wrong. Until recently you could have found him pulling pints in his native Midlands.

After capturing the Amateur Championship at Turnberry six weeks ago, Bladon was meant to return to his post as assistant manager of the Cask and Bottle at Leamington Spa. But he could feel his life taking a significant diversion and consequently told his employers where they could put their corkscrew.

All this has taken Bladon quite a while. He is 30 and much of his amateur career as a county player with Warwickshire has been characterised by a sense of talent scorned. Our man is notable for the consistency of his practice sessions. Every time Halley's Comet comes round he can be found on the driving range. Nevertheless, he is a hugely popular figure with his county team-mates, never more so when he suggested one of them should caddie for him both here and at the Masters next spring. The bouquet was caught by Gareth Jenkins.

Life has changed a little for the man who lives at home with his retired mother and now has a job with an engineering company which sounds dangerously close to a sinecure. "I've got time for training now which I've always been dead against," he said. "I've never been a practiser because I didn't like picking my own balls up. But I think I'd better start now because it doesn't seem to do the guys I've seen this week any harm."

When Bladon arrived for his reconnaissance mission in Lancashire this week he noticed two chaps had already pencilled themselves in for a practice round. So he added his name to those of Norman and Price. "Well I'm hardly going to get another chance like that again," he said.

Bladon has also transported his 6ft 3in, 17-stone frame around Royal Lytham in the company of his American counterpart, the United States amateur champion Tiger Woods. A rich cosmopolitan blood flows through the latter's languid body as he is a blend of black, Thai, Chinese, American Indian and white relatives.

Eldrick "Tiger" Woods received his sobriquet as an honour to the Vietnamese soldier who pulled his Green Beret father from a paddy field crackling with the reports of sniper fire. Earl Woods also probably recognised the sponsorship potential of such a name in golf (Jeremy Irons' father tried this technique, but his son was not as good at the sport).

Certainly, Woods Snr did not want his boy exposed on fields of war and chose instead the more salubrious pastures of the golf course. Tiger started playing the game aged six months, and, by the time he was two, he was on national television competing against Bob Hope in a driving and putting competition. At three he shot 48 for nine holes. More recently, he has been the US amateur champion for the past two seasons, pulling through a golfing jungle as stringent as the one his father once survived.

Woods is now 20, but behaves older. Perhaps the only element of the child in him is his phenomenal capacity for Big Macs, an area in which he is second only to Bluto in consumption. When it comes to hitting a golf ball, however, Tiger is more like Popeye.

The Stanford University economics student led the driving statistics in the US Open at Oakland Hills last month and has supplanted John Daly as the man who hurts golf balls most. Woods does his clubs no favours either and regularly caves in the face of his drivers.

Such length off the tee can cause problems for the tiro, as his second shot invariably calls for a half-hit wedge. This problem has been most apparent when Woods plays in the Masters. "There ain't enough golf courses out there for him," Tommy "Burnt Biscuits" Bennett, his caddie at the Augusta National, reported.

Bladon, it must be said, is no slouch with a driver either. At the first hole of his round with Norman, the 206-yard par three, he hit a three- iron to eight feet, inside his playing partners, and holed the putt. On the final hole he propelled his tee shot 350 yards, and then tidied up with a chip and a putt. "I have always dreamed about that walk between the last stands and birdie at the 18th," he said. "Whatever happens now, and my objective is to make the cut, I've done that."

As he retrieved his ball from the cup, Bladon was slapped on the back by the man he has admired above all in golf. Greg Norman then handed over a pounds 10 note, a Scottish one, his forfeit for defeat. It remains pinned up in the bedroom of Warren Bladon.

OPEN DETAILS

TODAY'S TEE-OFF TIMES

(GB or Irl unless stated): 0700 M Mackenzie, A Langenaeken (Bel), R Willison; 0711 P Lawrie, J Rivero (Sp), B Watts; 0722 D Gilford, I Baker-Finch (Aus), P Stewart (US); 0733 N Faldo, R Allenby (Aus), F Zoeller (US); 0744 R McFarlane, B Hughes (Aus), B Mayfair (US); 0755 F Couples (US), M McCumber (US), P Harrington; 0806 L Westwood, S Jones (US), W Riley (Aus); 0817 M James, P O'Malley (Aus), T Tolles (US); 0828 J Parnevik (Swe), B Charles (NZ), P Jacobsen (US); 0839 B Langer (Ger), T Kite (US), Y Kaneko (Japan); 0850 H Tanaka (Japan), S Ballesteros (Sp), J Maggert (US); 0901 B Faxon (US), D Frost (SA), C Montgomerie; 0912 D Feherty, J Haeggman (Swe), D A Weibring (US); 0923 J Haas (US), P Senior (Aus), H Clark; 0934 M O'Meara (US), T Lehman (US), A Forsbrand (Swe); 0945 L Roberts (US), G Turner (NZ), S Torrance; 0956 G Norman (Aus), S Stricker (US), J Payne; 1007 B Estes (US), W Westner (SA), P Eales; 1018 M A Jimenez (Sp), T Johnstone (Zimb), J Sluman (US); 1029 P Broadhurst, D Borrego (Sp), D Love III (US); 1040 R Drummond, S Field, M Welch; 1051 R Chapman, R Lee, H Meshiai (Japan); 1102 I Steel, F Tarnaud (Fr), B Mccoll; 1113 D Smyth, A Lebouc (Fr), A Mednick (Swe); 1124 G Emerson, *S Allan (Aus), M Litton; 1135 E Darcy, S Murphy (US), A Sherborne 1146 R Boxall, T Price (Aus), S Luna (Sp); 1157 D Duval (US), W Austin (US), B Lane. 1208 J Leonard (US), B Ogle (Aus), P McGinley; 1219 S Simpson (US), S Elkington (Aus), S Cage; 1230 E Romero (Arg), L Janzen (US), C Rocca (It); 1241 *W Bladon, A Oldcorn, B Barnes; 1252 J Daly (US), P Mickelson (US), S Higashi (Japan); 1303 M Jonzon (Swe), B Tway (US), S Ames (Tri); 1314 M Calcavecchia (US), C Strange (US), P-U Johansson (Swe); 1325 G Brand Jnr, S Maruyama (Japan), J Nicklaus (US); 1336 V Singh (Fiji), M Farry (Fr), J Furyk (US); 1347 T Herron (US), M McNulty (Zim), A Cejka (Ger); 1358 A Coltart, F Nobilo (NZ), M Brooks (US); 1409 P Hedblom (Swe), E Els (SA), C Stadler (US); 1420 C Parry (Aus), S Lyle, P Azinger (US); 1431 D Clarke, R Goosen (SA), *T Woods (US); 1442 B Crenshaw (US), N Price (Zim), P Walton; 1453 J Robson, *S Garcia (Sp), T Hamilton (US); 1504 G Player (SA), C Pavin (US), I Woosnam; 1515 P Mitchell, M Campbell (NZ), R Mediate (US); 1526 C Mason, T Bjorn (Den), S Bottomley; 1537 S Grappasonni (It), C Suneson (Sp), R Todd (Can); 1548 G Law, D A Russell, M Florioli (It) 1559 J Coceres (Arg), S Tinning (Den), K Fukunaga (Japan); 1610 D J Russell, D Hospital (Sp), G Brown; 1621 K Eriksson (Swe), M Hallberg (Swe), J Townsend (US).

* denotes amateur

CARD OF THE COURSE

Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par

1st 206 3 10th 334 4

2nd 437 4 11th 542 5

3rd 457 4 12th 198 3

4th 393 4 13th 342 4

5th 212 3 14th 445 4

6th 490 5 15th 463 4

7th 553 5 16th 357 4

8th 418 4 17th 467 4

9th 164 3 18th 414 4

Out 3,330 35 In 3,562 36

Total 6,892 71

Televison times

BBC2 10.25am-3.00pm; BBC1 3.00-5.35; BBC2 5.35-7.30pm

Latest odds

10-1 Faldo

14-1 Norman, Montgomerie, Els

22-1 Woosnam

25-1 Couples, Pavin

28-1 Mickleson

33-1 Price, Lehman, Allenby, Elkington, Faxon, Singh, Stewart

Odds supplied by Coral

Today's weather

Early mist, then dry, warm and sunny.

Temp: 22C

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