Brush with woods costs Dodd dearly

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 December, 2002, 12:00am

Stephen Dodd found golf as an 11-year-old searching for golf balls in the coal-port city of Barry, in south Wales. His search for a title is taking longer, for he has still to win a tournament in 12 years as a professional on the European PGA Tour. But that could all change today.

Dodd is in the lead, tied with Argentine Jorge Berendt and Swede Henrik Nystrom on 12-under-par 195 going into the final round of the US$700,000 Omega Hong Kong Open today. The Welsh choir could have been in full cry if he had not blown away a chance to take the sole ownership.

The 36-year-old Welshman was alone at the top going into the par-four 18th hole on 13-under when disaster struck. He pulled his tee shot to the right and into the trees bordering the fairway. Then he took two shots to come out of the woods before hitting his approach to within 15-feet. He somehow managed to hold his nerve to salvage the round with a bogey-putt.

But the damage had been done. 'I'm a bit disappointed to finish like this. I hooked my tee shot and then was tentative with my first shot in the woods. But all in all I'm pleased with the way I have been playing,' said Dodd who finished with a three-under-par 66.

So he should be. After a wait of 12 years, he has found his rainbow. Will a pot of gold be there waiting for him today? Co-leaders Berendt and Nystrom, amongst a host of others will be going all out to prevent Dodd from laying his hands on that elusive first title.

England's Nick Faldo, who is four shots off the pace, says the race is still open. 'It is there for the taking,' said an optimistic Faldo after shooting 66 yesterday. But for defending champion Jose Maria Olazabal, it might be all over. The Spaniard, who made a third-round 67, is six shots behind the leaders.

Dodd is hopeful that the moment will not get to him. He knows he is in unfamiliar territory - 'I have never been in the lead going into the final round' - and is apprehensive that he might become the victim of nerves.

'At the moment I'm not nervous. But probably I will be tomorrow,' said Dodd. Have a modicum of sympathy for him. He is playing in his 111th tournament on the European Tour - the Hong Kong Open is jointly sanctioned by the Asian PGA-run Davidoff Tour and the European PGA Tour - and the pressure of not winning grows with each passing event.

Also in the same boat as Dodd is Swede Nystrom. He has not won in 100 attempts. Nystrom made six-under-par 63 to push himself into contention after earlier rounds of 64 and 68.

'It is quite a while since I was in contention going into the final round. The last time was two years ago. My approach tomorrow will be just to go out there and enjoy it. Hopefully I can continue to hit it the way I did today,' said Nystrom.

On that last occasion, Nystrom finished second in the Scottish PGA Championship. Whether he has what it takes to go that step further will be the question asked of him today.

The Swede will partner Berendt in the final flight today. Berendt pushed his way into contention with the day's best score of 62. 'It is a long time since I made a low round. Normally on the European Tour it is not easy to make a very low score like 62 or 63. But this week the course is a par 69, so it is a little different,' said the Argentinian.

Unlike his co-leaders, he has tasted victory having won the Cannes Open last year, his only win on the European Tour. But all three will have to look over their shoulders for a crowd of others are hot on their heels.

One stroke behind are Thai Boonchu Ruangkit - who at 46 is the oldest player left in the field - Swede Fredrik Jacobson, Scot Gary Orr, Indian Arjun Singh and Tony Johnstone of Zimbabwe.

'I'm happy being one behind. I will try to put the heat on early tomorrow and see what happens. You can score really low if you are striking it well,' said Johnstone, who is one of the few players happy with the graining conditions on the green. He says he grew up playing on greens like this back home.

Asian PGA Order of Merit leader Jyoti Randhawa seemed subdued, having been in the centre of controversy on Friday after being abused by Danish Ryder Cup star Thomas Bjorn.

Randhawa, who shot a 69, confirmed yesterday that he had written a letter to both the European PGA and Asian PGA outlining the circumstances of the incident where Bjorn verbally abused him after the end of the second round when he had turned up late to sign the score card.

'I wrote a letter because I don't want this sort of thing happening to anyone else,' said Randhawa, who admitted to not being focused during yesterday's round, finishing it three shots off the pace.

Officials from both Tours said they were still looking at the matter and had taken no action as yet. Bjorn shot a 68 to lie two shots further behind Randhawa and five shots behind the leaders. As such the prospect of both players being in the same flight did not materialise.

Organisers were hoping to rope in both for yesterday's longest drive competition. But the bad weather put paid to that. Last year's winner of this competition was Dodd. He won a watch then. Today he will be going after a bigger reward.