He's been in this position before -- just not for long.
The 33-year-old Aussie opened with a 71 to take the lead in 1999 at Carnoustie, only to follow that with an 86 to miss the cut. That made him the only player in British Open history to go from the lead to the airport in one round.
'You learn that nothing counts after Day 1,' Pampling said. 'There's still three days to go. Come Sunday, if you're talking to me, I might not be too calm.'
Still, he has reason to be optimistic.
He's playing well this year and had chances to win at Pebble Beach and the B.C. Open. He overcame the theft of his golf clubs. And seeing 500-1 long shot Ben Curtis capture the British Open makes him think he can become the next unheralded player to win a major.
'It's nice to see guys who work hard, who aren't expected to win, actually get up and win,' he said. 'It makes everyone else feel they can win. It's not just the top 25 in the world can win a major.'
Playing the PGA Championship for the first time, Pampling was first off the 10th tee Thursday morning and quickly got his name on the leaderboard with birdies on the 13th and 14th holes, and another one on No. 1.
A bigger key for Pampling was missing only two fairways in a bogey-free round at Oak Hill, which is framed by ankle-deep rough.
'It's just gnarly, it's kind of growing everywhere,' Pampling said. 'When you miss a green as well, it's just difficult to know what the ball is going to do once you're in the rough. I really didn't have to deal with the rough all that much. I hit some nice
shots and made some putts. It was pretty boring but I'm happy with it.'
Pampling might be benefiting from an unanticipated change of equipment. A thief crept into his garage in suburban Dallas one night in April and made off with his clubs.
'When you lose 14 clubs -- there's a couple of clubs you've had for a long time in there -- that puts pressure on other parts of the game that it normally doesn't,' he said. 'It took a while to get around that but, yeah, that's all in the past now. The last month has been good. It's just getting comfortable again with the clubs I've got.'
Not since 1969 have all four majors gone to players who had never won a Grand Slam event.
Curtis, a 26-year-old rookie who was No. 396 in the world ranking, captured the British Open at Royal St. George's a month ago. Mike Weir became the first Canadian to win the Masters. And Jim Furyk won the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields.
'It's a realistic goal now that you can definitely put a major on your list and expect to have a chance of winning one,' Pampling said.
Pampling didn't take up golf until age 16 and earned an apprenticeship in greenskeeping before turning pro at age 24. His wife, Angela, a clinical psychologist, often watches him play and feeds him advice before and afterward.
'Obviously, we don't interact while we're out there,' he said. 'She just more or less looks at the way I react to certain shots. It's just another link, I suppose, that can get you to the top of the game. There's so much pressure involved that you have to be levelheaded out on the golf course, so that you can perform.'
Pampling is levelheaded enough to know there are still three days left at Oak Hill.
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