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THE THURSDAY COLUMN: Why bottling golfers could be rarer in future tournaments.

Byline: BRUCE MILLINGTON

JERRY Kelly won his first US Tour title on Sunday night in his 200th tournament. Having had two shots in hand going into the final round, he retained his lead despite coming under pressure from rivals who were proven winners. Why?

What made this hitherto serial choker hang on this time? The feature of his career had been his inability to keep the others at bay after building a 54-hole lead.

Twice last year he went to bed on Saturday in the driving seat and both times he hit the hay the following night in the dunce's hat having thrown it all away.

Kelly was around the 9-4 mark going into the final round in Hawaii at the weekend despite holding a two-stroke advantage, which just shows how little faith the bookmakers had in him. Most other players of his ability would have been barely odds-against.

Perhaps we should put Kelly's success down to law of averages. After all, he had contended so many times that he was due to win one in the end.

Hmm. I'm not so sure. This theory is very much in the embryonic stage, but I'm beginning to wonder whether what happened in America on September 11 has helped professional golfers, like all of us, focus on what is important and what isn't.

For Jerry Kelly - and all those other Tour maidens - before September 11 his goal was probably to win a Tour event. After the madness he may well have decided there are more important things in life.

These golf shrinks are always trying to find new ways to make their clients relax when the pressure intensifies.

But it really doesn't take a master of psychology to motivate a fretful player when he can just calm himself down by telling him that even if his eight-footer for the victory lips out he can still jump on a flight to his million-dollar ranch, his peroxided wife and his adoring kids.

Since September 11, there has been little or no choking on the US Tour. Players, albeit fairly good ones, have been leading tournaments from well before the halfway stage and passing the post unchallenged without the merest hint of a wobble.

When winning seems less important it must become easier, and it may well be worth noting how previously renowned bottlers perform when the heat is turned up in the coming weeks.

Of particular interest is Phil Mickelson. The emergence of Sergio Garcia means it is now questionable whether Lefty really is the best player not to have won a Major, but he is without doubt good enough to land one of the four big ones. Perhaps he will stay cool and win at Augusta.

CAPTION(S):

Jerry Kelly and son Cooper celebrate his breakthrough US Tour success in Hawaii on Sunday. Could it soon be the turn of Phil Mickelson (below) to capture his first Major?
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jan 17, 2002
Words:485
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