It's funny how in golf a player can have a great tournament without anybody paying much heed until the turn for home. That pretty much describes the way Texan Justin Leonard won the 126th British Open.
Leonard was in the hunt from the beginning, but he never took the lead until Sunday when he reached the 71st hole of the 72 played during four days at the Royal Troon Golf Club on the robust Scottish coast.
At that point, Leonard had grabbed a two-shot lead and only needed to par the last hole as his two nearest pursuers, Swede Jesper Parnevik and Irishman Darren Clarke, tried to hold together games that had developed unwanted rattles.
Leonard made his move Sunday on the front nine. Trailing Parnevik by five strokes and Clarke by three, he carded six birdies in eight holes to put himself in the thick of things. When he stepped off the final green into the scorer's tent, he could look back on rounds of 69, 66, 72, and 65.
Maybe others hadn't seen him coming, but Leonard, a former US Amateur and collegiate champion, obviously wasn't unprepared for what happened. He had played 80 practice holes to adjust to links conditions, and when it came time to accept the winner's silver claret jug for his three-shot triumph, he pulled notes from his pocket to use in making an acceptance speech.
The only time he got choked up was in reflecting on all the family members and friends in Dallas who hadn't witnessed his finest golfing hour in person. As he acknowledged, though, Troon wasn't the sort of place one hops a plane to at the last minute.
Leonard has been considered one of the rising stars on the tour, but this was the first sure sign that he can manage his game under major championship pressure. He outgolfed all the game's bigger names, including home course favorite Colin Montgomerie, US Open champion Ernie Els, defending British Open winner Tom Lehman, and Tiger Woods, none of whom came closer than 10 shots to his 12-under-par finish.