Big Finish Earns Williams Open Spot

By Kathy Orton
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Lee Williams didn't mind a bit coming back to finish the U.S. Open sectional qualifier at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville yesterday morning.

Williams, who just graduated from Auburn, had just teed off No. 17 on Monday evening when play was halted because of lightning. All but 12 of the 149 golfers competing for 22 spots in next week's U.S. Open finished on Monday. Williams was one of six still in contention who returned yesterday morning to complete the second round of the 36-hole qualifier.

"The wind was howling, and the storm was coming in, and when they blew the horn when they did, I was actually happy about that," said Williams, ranked 23rd in the Golfweek college rankings. "I had already hit [the tee shot] and I was taking my time so I wouldn't have to hit into the green because I knew that I would get to come out in the morning with perfect conditions and I'd get to hit the shot and practice it on the range."

Williams needed to at least birdie one of his final two holes to earn a spot in the playoff. Two birdies would get him an Open berth outright and avoid a playoff. When he resumed yesterday morning, his second shot on 17 landed 10 feet from the hole and then spun back to 25 feet. He missed the birdie putt and settled for par.

With only one hole left, Williams had to do something spectacular -- and he did. He hit a three wood down the right side of the fairway, leaving him 125 yards to the green.

"I hit a little bitty 9-iron to take the spin off it," Williams said.

His ball landed five feet below the pin, rolled a foot past, spun back and dropped into the hole -- at least that was what he was told.

"I didn't get to see it," Williams said of his eagle. "I thought I was up there a foot or two feet [from the pin]. I thought I was going to make birdie, that it was a tap-in. They raised their hands so I was like I guess I must have been close. Then come to find out, they're like this right here. I was like, 'Golly.' I just couldn't believe it. I'm still in shock."

Williams finished at 8-under par 134, which gave him one of the coveted berths and went a long way toward bolstering his chances of making the Walker Cup team. Williams used a semifinal appearance in the U.S. amateur in 2003 to make the team. A strong showing at the U.S. Open would strengthen his bid to make it again.

"I'm not thinking about that," he said. "Because if you think about that, then you're just going to shoot yourself in the foot."

Williams's eagle meant that the nine players who finished at 135 were playing for five rather than six spots.

Michael Putnam, a Pepperdine all-American and No. 9 in the Golfweek rankings, and Ian Leggatt, a PGA Tour player, took the first two after each birdied the first playoff hole. Two more PGA Tour players, Franklin Langham and David Hearn, were in after making birdies on the second hole.

Tag Ridings, a PGA Tour player, and Pablo Martin-Benavides, a freshman at Oklahoma State, dropped out with a double-bogey and bogey respectively. David Kirkpatrick, who has played on the PGA and Nationwide tours, bogeyed the third hole, leaving PGA Tour player Paul Goydos and Mark Every, a Florida junior ranked 12th in the Golfweek rankings, to compete for the final spot. After they each made par on the fourth hole, Goydos missed his birdie putt long on the fifth extra hole. Every sank a 15-footer to claim the final spot and then made a mad dash to Dulles Airport to catch a flight to Wisconsin along with Martin-Benavides and Putnam for the Palmer Cup, a Ryder Cup-style competition between American and European college players that begins today at Whistling Straights.

· BOOZ ALLEN QUALIFIER: William MacKenzie and Brenden Pappas earned the final two spots in this week's PGA Tour event at Congressional by winning a four-way playoff yesterday morning at Little Bennett Golf Course.


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