AKRON, Ohio – Even avid golf fans might be surprised to see who is No. 4 in the U.S. Ryder Cup team rankings this week.
Tiger Woods? Nope. He’s ninth. Stewart Cink? He’s at No. 13.
Try Jeff Overton, hardly the name that comes to mind when you consider the best American players in 2010.
“It’s not like I’m Tiger Woods,” he said. “Maybe if we could ever win instead of finish second, maybe we’d have a little better chance of (being known).”
Overton is listed so high among U.S. golfers for the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor because he’s played consistently well all year. He’s had three seconds and two thirds, barely missing out on his first career win several times.
On Sunday at the Greenbrier Classic, it took Stewart Appleby’s stirring 59 in the final round to beat him. The 27-year-old Indiana University graduate also was runner-up at the Zurich Classic and the Byron Nelson.
“This year I’ve been able to get inside the top three a lot, but I haven’t been able to get that win,” he said Wednesday, the day before the start of the Bridgestone Invitational. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep plugging along. Like (former British Open champion) Ian Baker-Finch said, ‘You keep knocking on the door enough times, eventually something is going to happen.”’
Overton’s scoring average is 69.81, third best on the PGA Tour. He is 12th on the money list with more than $2.4 million. He’s up to No. 47 in the world rankings after starting the year at No. 186.
A native of Illinois, he is the son of a former baseball player and quarterback at Indiana State. He said he gets his competitive fire from his dad.
He also dates an opera singer.
Asked where they met, he laughed and said, “Bloomington, Ind., the No. 1 opera school in America.”
Overton said he knows about as much about opera as his girlfriend knows about golf.
For instance, his girlfriend’s mother came out to see him play once. He made a bogey and she said, “What did he do? He made a bogus?”
So far this year, he’s been anything but bogus when climbing those Ryder Cup charts.
“(Making the team) would be half the goal, and then the next half of the goal would be to figure out a way to go win the USA some points,” he said.
BY ANY OTHER NAME: Sometimes a golfer needs to not be so concerned about winning in order to win.
That was perhaps the case for Justin Rose for his first decade as a professional. In six full years (and parts of four or five others), he never won on American soil. Second-place finishes at the Texas Open in ’06, Bridgestone in ’07 and Memorial in ’08 not only whetted his appetite for winning, but also increased the questions about why he wasn’t winning.
Rose turned 30 last week but he’s been celebrating all year in the U.S.
Wins at the Memorial and AT&T National have pushed him up the charts in the world rankings. He was 70th to start the year but is now 19th. After years of promise mixed with disappointment, he is considered a threat to win every tournament.
“I said before I started winning that my game was in great shape,” he said on Wednesday. “I didn’t need to do anything different; I didn’t need to work on anything. I guess it was the patience factor of just letting it happen.”
Rose was born in South Africa and raised in England. He now has homes in London and Orlando, Fla.
Some athletes begin to press when they don’t meet their own or others’ expectations. The difference for Rose was letting go.
“The switch for me was … just letting it come out on the golf course, just letting my game sort of go to the first tee, not getting in my own way,” he said. “It’s a very simple mindset to talk about, much harder to do.”
59 FALLOUT: It’s difficult for the typical once-a-week golfer to even contemplate how someone shoots 59.
Stuart Appleby became the fifth player to shoot a 59 in a PGA Tour event when he won the Greenbrier Classic on Sunday by going 11-under over the last 18 holes.
Appleby, set to tee it off in Thursday’s opening round of the Bridgestone Invitational, turned the front side in 6 under. The thought immediately came to him that if he maintained that he might just win the tournament.
“Then I eagled 12 and I thought, ‘I’m on record pace,”’ he said. “I thought there’s nothing at the end of the round that’s going to stand out to be a real test if I’m playing any good. There’s no 500-yard, par-4s; there’s birdie opportunities there. The course was very benign.”
Still, he needed to continue to not just play well but to make birdies. As he traversed the back nine at the Old White, the word spread about what he had within his grasp. The pressure grew, because Appleby also knew.
“I thought, well, just got to keep hitting it close and see if I can make putts – and the putts just seemed to come to me,” he said.
Always, his primary incentive was catching, then staying ahead of Jeff Overton.
“I sort of had two motivating forces,” Appleby said. “One was to try and chase, and one was to also do something a bit unique.”
WHO’S NO. 1? Tiger Woods has been No. 1 in the world golf rankings for the past 270 weeks. But he could fall from that perch this weekend at the Bridgestone Invitational.
If Woods wins, he stays No. 1. If second-ranked Phil Mickelson wins, he takes over the top spot. If third-ranked Lee Westwood wins, and Tiger finishes third or worse, he could be the world’s top player.
Mickelson or Westwood could also take over No. 1 if they were to finish high and Woods were well back in the pack.
DIVOTS: The top 50 players in the world rankings are scheduled to play in the Bridgestone which has a purse of $8.5 million and pays $1.4 million to the winner. … An older woman stood by the first tee on Wednesday wearing a pink T-shirt that said, “You Thrill Me, Phil.” … Spectators who spend $75 on tournament merchandise receive a free ticket to Sunday’s round. … Appleby met his wife, Ashley, at a nearby restaurant 10 years ago during the Bridgestone. They’ve been married eight years.