Commentary

Elkington holds his own at Nelson

Updated: May 21, 2010, 9:13 PM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Steve Elkington had every opportunity to feel like the old man Friday at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.

He was playing with Rickie Fowler, who sported a neon orange shirt and had plenty of hair sticking out of his cap. He also had quite the cheering section following his every move.

Then there was Jordan Spieth, a 16-year-old amateur making the cut in his first PGA Tour event and lamenting the fact that a few more putts didn't drop to boost him higher on the leaderboard.

[+] EnlargeSteve Elkington
Darren Carroll/Getty ImagesSteve Elkington's last win on the Tour was in 1999, but he's in contention at the HP Byron Nelson Championship.

Spieth sure didn't act his age during the first two rounds. For that matter, neither did Elkington.

The 47-year-old got his PGA Tour card at qualifying school nearly two years to the day that Fowler was born. But the former University of Houston golfer outplayed the talented rookie the first two rounds, firing a 4-under 66 on Friday to sit just 2 strokes out of the lead.

Elkington has more than $14 million in career earnings but hasn't cashed a winner's check on the PGA Tour since Bill Clinton was in office. And if Charles Howell III had not withdrawn from the Nelson, Elkington wouldn't even be here this weekend. He found out he was in the event on Sunday.

"I had a great '90s, but I didn't do much in the last decade, so I'm glad that's over with, you know?" Elkington said.

The run in the 1990s included 10 victories and constant battles with allergy problems -- not exactly the best thing for a guy whose job is nearly exclusively outdoors.

He had sinus surgery in 1994, but that didn't fix the problem. A sinus infection forced him to withdraw from the Buick Open in 1995. Yet a week later, he was hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy as the 1995 PGA Championship winner, his only major victory to date.

Elkington also won the Players Championship twice during that decade and had a swing that many players wanted to clone. But 1999 was the last time Elkington won on tour, tracking down David Duval in the final round of the Doral-Ryder Open.

It isn't as if Elkington has just disappeared from contention. He was runner-up to Phil Mickelson at the 2005 PGA Championship and he lost in a four-man playoff to Ernie Els at the 2002 British Open. But he hasn't had as many chances as he'd like.

He'll play this weekend without any worries about allergies. He conquered those a few years ago and has become a walking advertisement for Allegra in the process.

"It was a miracle drug for me," Elkington said.

[+] EnlargeRickie Fowler
Darren Carroll/Getty ImagesSteve Elkington is battling and outplaying youngsters such as Rickie Fowler.

Elkington, clearly comfortable in his own skin, looks in shape and confident. And he's got more in common with Fowler and Spieth than you might think.

"I never thought at my age I'd be into social networking, but I am," Elkington said.

So much so that he started his own website five weeks ago -- www.secretinthedirt.com -- that he calls "Facebook for golf." The site allows members (and there are 7,600 already) to log on and share their golf swings with each other and talk about golf.

Elkington, with the help of 86-year-old Jackie Burke, has filmed instructional videos and has a section on the history of instruction in the game.

"I just think you shouldn't have to pay hundreds of dollars for a lesson," Elkington said. "It should be free. It's been a fun project."

Elkington is having fun beating so many young players through two rounds of the Nelson. It's certainly much better than his experience on tour last year, when he finished 183rd on the money list.

"I had rounds where I played one day like Sam Snead and the next day like Sam Sausage," Elkington said.

The version closer to Snead has showed up in Irving, putting Elkington in contending position again.

"It's been awhile since I've been up here, but I've had some highlights here and there," Elkington said. "I've had some good stretches of golf this year already in places; I just haven't finished it out."

He'll get an opportunity with a late tee time Saturday. Elkington is playing his 14th Nelson and has finished in the top 32 five times. He didn't play from 1997 to 2004 and missed the cut the last two years.

Elkington compared the course to playing pool.

"It's all about the angles," Elkington said. "It's tricky. It's not on the greatest piece of land because it's squashed in here, but it's been able to hold great tournaments for a long time, and it's got great closing holes. But there is no doubt it's like shootin' pool. You've got to have a good angle."

So is Elkington a good enough pool shark to outplay the rest of the field this weekend?

"I have been known to play pool for a little bit of cash, if you're interested," Elkington said.

Richard Durrett covers golf for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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