By John Manley
With Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington finishing in the top five of last year’s British Open, the prospect of an Irish name near the top of the leaderboard figured again in 1998. But Des Smyth? As names such as Brian Watts, Justin Rose and Raymond Russell populated the upper reaches of that board, we were reminded that figures lie and liars figure. Clarke, Harrington and Paul McGinley represented the best Irish hopes going into the championship, but come Saturday it was left to Smyth and Philip Walton to carry the load.
McGinley (147), Clarke (148) and Harrington (149) all missed the 146 that would have allowed them to continue play into the weekend at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England. They kept pretty good company, however. Colin Montgomerie, Bernhard Langer, Tom Watson, Paul Azinger, Tom Lehman and John Daly were but a few that had occasion to ponder what went wrong on Thursday and Friday. Less prominent Irish hopes to flounder were Graham Spring (154) and Francis Howley, who withdrew with a tendon injury after a first-round 78.
Both Smyth and Walton played their way into the Open via the 36-hole qualifier the previous Sunday and Monday. Walton opened with a 2-under-par 68, leaving him three strokes off the early pace set by John Huston and Tiger Woods. Walton retreated somewhat during Friday’s blustery tour, when he shot 76, placing him seven behind Watts. Smyth came out on Thursday with a score of 74, but had one of Friday’s better rounds when he signed his name to a 69. The 143 placed him six behind Watts.
Nobody broke 70 on Saturday, and even Watts’s 73 couldn’t dislodge him from the top of the leaderboard. Thus, Walton’s 74 and Smyth’s 75 did them little harm. Both were eight behind Watts going into Sunday, and there was scant chance that the 15 or so golfers ahead of them would play poorly enough to carve a path to the top. However, there was prize money and the opportunity to qualify for next year’s Open at stake. Smyth’s 71 gave him a 9-over 289 for the tournament, tying him for 15th place and a spot in next year’s Open. The Drogheda man was nine behind Watts and Mark O’Meara, who both finished tied at even par, with O’Meara winning a four-hole playoff. Walton, however, went backward on Sunday, shooting 76 to land him in a tie for 38th at 14-over 294.
There was also the presence of one Robert Giles, of whom little is known, including the flag to which he pledges allegiance. Giles, whose home was alternately listed as Northern Ireland or England (ESPN even flew the Republic’s tri-color next to his name), made the cut, but closed with rounds of 83 and 78 to finish 27 over at 307, beating only three, although one of those was Phil Mickelson. Giles’s name does not appear on any European Tour results for 1998, making him a mystery man, indeed.
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Richard Coughlan enjoyed the highest finish of his burgeoning professional career with a tie for 21st at the Deposit Guaranty Classic at the Annandale Golf Club in Madison, Miss. He had his work cut out for him after beginning the event with a 2-over 74, but staved off the ax by shooting 69 in the second round. He followed with rounds of 67 and 68 to finish 10-under at 278, which was 8 strokes behind the champion, Fred Funk. Coughlan earned $12,000 and now stands 176th on the money list for the year with total earnings of $56,990.
Keith Nolan matched Coughlan’s opening round score of 74, and was only one stroke off Coughlan’s second round number. But Nolan’s 70, which put him at 144 after 36 holes, was one stroke above the cut line. Both Coughlan and Nolan will be on display for fans in the Boston area this weekend when they tee off in the final CVS Charity Classic at the Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton, Mass., which is being discontinued after this year.
They play some competitive golf on this feeder circuit to the PGA Tour. John Kernohan didn’t play much worse in the third and fourth rounds than he did in the first two at the St. Louis Classic, but there were plenty of guys pressing behind him to take advantage of his miscues. Kernohan was tied for 10th going into Saturday’s play after shooting two rounds of 3-under 67. He came up with 1-over 71s in those last two rounds at the Missouri Bluffs Golf Club, which pushed him all the way back to a tie for 46th at 276, 13 strokes behind Chris Starkjohann, the champion. Kernohan is going to have to start pulling rabbits out of his sleeve if he is to make the 1999 PGA Tour through the Nike Tour money list. The top 15 advance at year’s end and Kernohan has 30 guys to leapfrog. He is 45th with $32,014. He raked in $619 with his performance last week.