Gamble Paying Off for Faxon


ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Brad Faxon knew what the reaction would be.
Why would an American golfer fly eight hours across the Atlantic to play two rounds of golf on some obscure Scottish links for a shot -- make that a longshot -- at qualifying for the British Open?
``I have a lot of friends that were like, 'You're going over there to qualify?' With raised eyebrows,'' Faxon recalled. ``And part of them were saying, 'You're nuts.'''
Turns out, Faxon wasn't so crazy.
Last weekend, he claimed one of only three spots that were available in his 96-player qualifier. That was reason enough to celebrate, but Faxon didn't stop there.
On Friday, he posted one of the best rounds of the day on the Old Course, a 66 that sent him to the weekend in a seven-way tie for third and five strokes behind leader Tiger Woods.
Those same friends who questioned Faxon's sanity will likely be gathered around their TV sets this weekend, rooting on an improbable quest that just keeps getting better.
He's also getting plenty of cheers in Scotland, the Brits showing their appreciation for an American who went out of his way to play in the homeland of golf.
``I've had a lot of people say things about coming over here, how impressed people were by that,'' he said. ``I've told people from the beginning that I'm not doing it to impress anybody. I'm not trying to win over anybody. I want to play the Open. And that was my only choice.''
Faxon has always relied on his putter to score and it was no different Friday when he used it to birdie five holes on the front side. He made a 15-footer at No. 2, a 10-footer at 3 and a 20-footer at 8. He also pulled off a couple of lengthy two-putts on the massive St. Andrews' greens, getting down from 100 feet at 5 and 90 feet at 9.
Another two-putt birdie from off the green at 18 closed out his round.
``I saw the line very well today,'' Faxon said. ``And you have a lot of long putts here. It's stuff you can't practice. You don't know when you're going to have a 70-footer and it's hard to decide. Do you pace this off? How do you pick up speed here? But you've just got to kind of use your eyes and trust that you know how to hit it the right distance.''
Actually, it's not too surprising that Faxon has a keen feel around the humps and hollows of the Scottish coast. He's always had an appreciation for links golf, going back to his teenage years.
He remembers watching back home when Jack Nicklaus won for the second time at St. Andrews in 1978, wearing that famed navy blue argyle sweater. ``I've got two of them,'' Faxon said.
He was a big fan of Tom Watson during his dominating run in the 1970s and '80s, wearing that ``little woolen cap ... with the pompon on it.''
``I love coming over here,'' Faxon said.
Even though it doesn't always work out. Five years ago, he flew to Scotland in a failed attempt to qualify for St. Andrews, then flew right back home to successfully defend his title at the B.C. Open.
Faxon has struggled much of the year, missing the cut in eight of his first 16 tournaments with only one top-10 finish. And he couldn't take part in the U.S. qualifier for the British Open because it conflicted with a charity event he runs with fellow PGA Tour golfer Billy Andrade.
Notorious for tinkering with his swing, Faxon apparently got it right at just the right time. He tied for third at the Barclays Classic, his last tournament before the Open.
``I've played some of my worst golf in my career early on this year,'' Faxon said. ``I was experimenting with too much stuff, as I've been known to do. But in the last couple of months, I've played more consistently.''
The last time Faxon played an Open at the Old Course -- a decade ago -- he was tied for the lead with John Daly at the midway point. But Faxon slumped to 75-74 on the windy weekend, dropping him into a tie for 15th.
This time, he hopes to finish the job, though it will be a daunting task for anyone to catch Woods the way he's playing.
No matter what happens, Faxon's trip is already a success.
``Coming over here to qualify got me in the spirit a little bit,'' he said. ``I hope it carries through the next few days.''
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