Thursday, November 20


Leaney didn't win, but did cash in



OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- He took a long, tortured route to his goal, but Stephen Leaney made it.

Stephen Leaney
Stephen Leaney couldn't capitalize Sunday to make a run at Jim Furyk.

The Australian didn't win the U.S. Open on Sunday, didn't really have much of a chance. Not with Jim Furyk keeping him at bay all day at Olympia Fields Country Club. But by shooting 72 and finishing second, Leaney earned $650,000. And that amount, coupled with his previous earnings this year, is enough to give him special temporary membership on the PGA Tour.

That means he can accept an unlimited number of tournament invitations for the remainder of 2003. And with more than $800,000 in earnings, Leaney will be among the top 125 on the final money list, assuring a spot on the Tour next year.

"I've had a wonderful week,'' Leaney said. "I've got my U.S. tour card for the next two years, which is what I wanted, and I've got (an invitation) to the Masters, so I guess there were some good things to come out of it.''

Leaney, 34, has been a pro for more than 10 years and is ranked 55th in the world. He has three PGA European Tour wins and two top 10s this year, but had played in just one previous U.S. Open, missing the cut in 1999. Twice, he missed getting his PGA Tour card by one stroke, including last fall.

But Sunday, he was bidding for much more than PGA Tour status. He wanted a major championship.

"I watched the shows (Saturday) night and the papers and everybody seemed to be talking about Nick Price and Vijay (Singh) making a charge for the tournament and I didn't get a mention,'' Leaney said. "It didn't spur me on but I wasn't surprised about it. People don't know my game, and hopefully today people will realize that I can play and that I have a chance to win these sorts of tournaments.

"I haven't contended in a major before and I've been playing well enough, and I thought that if I got off to a good start then I would have a chance to win.''

Leaney could never get closer than the three shot deficit he had at the start of the day. He bogeyed the first hole, a par-5, birdied the second, bogeyed the third, then birdied the fourth. He trailed by five shots at the turn, but had it to three shots through 13 when Furyk slammed the door.

"I thought I had a very big chance after I holed that putt on 13,'' Leaney said. "Jimmy made a great shot into 14, and he just kept me at arm's length all day.''

Because Leaney has earned more than the amount earned by the 150th finisher on the 2002 PGA Tour money list, he can apply for special temporary membership on the tour. That gives him the opportunity to receive unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the year, and they will undoubtedly be forthcoming for the U.S. Open runner-up. Leaney accomplished all of this despite losing his caddie before the second round. Justin Grenfell-Hoyle had to be hospitalized just a few hours before Leaney was to play on Friday. Leaney recruited another Aussie, Alistair Howell, who normally caddies for Mathew Goggin. Howell had the week off but happened to be at the tournament as a spectator.

"It's not the sort of distraction you need two hours before your round,'' Leaney said.

Nonetheless, Leaney shot a second-round 68 and had three rounds in the 60s. He and Furyk were the only two players in the field to do that.

"Second is obviously great, but first is what I wanted,'' he said. "I'm not upset, but I really believed that I was going to win. It will take a few days to get over it. I guess I'm upset that it didn't happen, but I'm sure in a week or two I'll realize that I did play very well this week and there are lots of good things to come out of it.''

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times, and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com



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