Leonard sets Ryder Cup berth as goal American just 2 shots back in 'special' tournament; British Open


TROON, Scotland -- When Justin Leonard came over the past two years and qualified for the British Open, his peers on the PGA Tour praised him for doing something other Americans won't do. But Leonard looked at it as the perfect place to gain experience.

"It's been a great experience," said Leonard, who tied for 58th at HTC St. Andrews two years ago and missed the cut at Royal Lytham and St. Annes last year. "I understand how to play the courses better. I have a better sense of the history. This tournament has a special feeling for me."

It's obvious from what Leonard has done the past two days that he is getting a feel for playing the tournament. The 25-year-old Texan followed an opening-round 69 with a 66 yesterday, putting him at 7-under 135 and two shots behind second-round leader Darren Clarke of Ireland.

For Leonard, it's a continuation of what began when he finished tied for seventh at this year's Masters. But Leonard's push to make this year's Ryder Cup team began when he won last month's Kemper Open at Avenel.

"I was playing pretty well going into that tournament, and I didn't play all that poorly at the U.S. Open," said Leonard, alluding to a tie for 36th that included a third-round 78. "But winning a &L; tournament is a great accomplishment and it gives you a big boost for your confidence."

In his two tournaments prior to the British Open, Leonard finished tied for fifth in the St. Jude Classic and tied for third at the Western Open. He is ranked 11th on the money list with $943,140 and 10th on the Ryder Cup point list. Tenth is the last automatic spot to make the team.

"What's on your hat?" said Leonard, pointing to a reporter wearing a 1995 Ryder Cup hat. "That's been my goal all year."

A matter of respect

It likely won't cost Tom Lehman a chance at his second straight British Open championship. But what happened on the second hole yesterday at Royal Troon further enhanced Lehman's reputation here as a player who respects the game and its rules.

After hitting his ball on the green, Lehman marked it and then moved his marker to get it out of the way as playing partner Vijay Singh prepared to putt. Noticing the ball was cut, he gave it to caddie Andy Martinez, who gave him a new ball. Lehman told Singh what he was doing.

Singh putted.

Lehman put his ball down in the spot where he had left the marker, not where the ball had been initially. He wound up with a bogey on the hole. As he walked down the fairway, Lehman saw rules official Tim Taylor thumbing through a rule book.

"I'm thinking to myself, 'Why would he be looking at a rules book?' " Lehman said later. " 'What has somebody in this group done to cause him to look at the rules?' Then I thought, 'Shoot, I didn't put my mark back.' At that time, I thought I'd be disqualified. I had teed off on the hole not correcting my mistake."

Realizing what he had done, Lehman's shoulders slumped. He then informed Taylor he was calling a two-shot penalty on himself.

"It wasn't really a nice way to start the day," said Lehman, who finished with a 1-over 72 and a two-round total of 4-over 146.

It turned out that Taylor hadn't seen what Lehman had done.

"Maybe he was just boning up on the rules," Lehman said.

Swedish aces

Do they have hole-in-one clinics in Sweden? Three aces have been made in the tournament, all by Swedes. After Pierre Fulke did it Thursday, Dennis Edlund and Daniel Olsson did it during yesterday's second round.

Edlund made his with a 9-iron on No. 8, the 126-yard "Postage Stamp" hole that got its name after 71-year-old Gene Sarazen made an ace and then holed out for birdie from a bunker during the 1973 Open. Olsson followed with a 5-iron on the 210-yard fifth hole.

Neither made the cut. Edlund finished with a 77 -- 10 shots better than he fared in the opening round -- and Olsson shot 73 after an 80 Thursday. It was the first hole-in-one for Edlund.

Asked if he could use a shot like that to boost his career, Edlund said, "It only counts as one shot."

Pub Date: 7/19/97

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