Skip Kendall has never won any of the 310 events he's started in 10 years on the PGA Tour, the longest such streak among current card-carrying players. He's never finished among the top 30 on the money list, is 90th in the world rankings and has never been in the final group of leaders in a major championship after 36 holes.
Kendall, 40, is a classic journeyman from Milwaukee who, 15 years ago, practiced hitting golf balls in a vacant field between shifts as an Olive Garden waiter still wearing his official bow tie. On Saturday, he'll be in the final pairing at Royal Troon with Frenchman Thomas Levet in the third round of the 133rd British Open. Kendall earned that honor Friday, posting a tournament low round of 5-under 66, including a holed-out birdie blast from a greenside bunker and a 50-foot eagle putt, pushing to a one-shot lead at 7-under 135 over Levet (70-136).
English veteran Barry Lane birdied his final two holes for a 68, and Korean K.J. Choi came in with a 69 to tie for third at 5-under 137. But Kendall, a hard core Green Bay Packers fan, firmly believes he has the ability to win on Sunday, despite the lurking presence of many of the world's finest players -- including Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Phil Mickelson, Mike Weir and Colin Montgomerie -- all within four shots of his lead.
"I've been very close" to winning, said Kendall, accompanied here this week by his 80-year-old mother, Shirley, and his fiancee, Traci Meade. "I've lost in a bunch of playoffs [including the Bob Hope to Mickelson in January]. I really feel like I can win out on the PGA Tour, as well as any place else. I think it's just a matter of time. Hopefully, this will be mine."
Kendall, whose best major showing is a tie for 10th in the 1998 PGA Championship, came to the British Open courtesy of a 36-hole qualifying tournament at Congressional Country Club three weeks ago. Still, Kendall, 5 feet 7 and 150 pounds, clearly has a big-time game. At the Bob Hope, he had five rounds in the 60s and was 30 under par, matched only by Mickelson, who won with a birdie on the first playoff hole.
In all, five of the top seven players in the world rankings are among the top 14 players on the leader board, and that doesn't even count No. 1 Tiger Woods, who is also within striking distance, six shots off Kendall's lead.
Playing in the more difficult morning session, with 20-25 mph gusts blowing in off the Firth of Clyde, Woods ended with nine straight pars for an even-par 71. He's now at 1-under 141 but should have been closer, with a missed two-foot putt at the seventh hole for a bogey and a botched eight-footer for par at the ninth. He had relatively few birdie chances on the back nine, often leaving approach shots 30 to 40 feet from the hole.
"Obviously I dropped a couple of shots there on the front nine, but overall I'm pleased," Woods said. "The golf course is not playing easy, and the guys are not going to go out there and shoot 63s and 64s. I'm right there with a chance going into the weekend, and that's right where I want to be."
He is hardly alone.
Els, ranked No. 2 in the world and runner-up to Mickelson at the Masters, had his second straight 69 of the week (also his fifth straight 69 in this tournament) and was grousing about not being able to take advantage of a tad less wind and slightly more favorable afternoon course conditions.
"I still feel a little frustrated that I left some shots out there," he said. "But I can't get too hard on myself. I'm still in the tournament, only three behind [at 138], and we can make that up on the weekend. But I'd love to make some more putts."
Mickelson had no such complaints after a 66 that included a 4-under 32 on the front nine, and only 25 putts, including 11 one-putt greens.
"I thought that making a bunch of par putts to keep the round going on the back nine was what gave me the extra shot or two," he said. "The wind is not brutal; it's not easy, and hopefully it will come up this weekend and play like a normal British Open where we're fighting for pars. At Shinnecock this year [in the U.S. Open] on Sunday it was so difficult to make pars, and I felt very good about my ability to do that. I'm kind of hoping it plays tough."
Montgomerie, who also had his second straight 69 and was three off the lead, had a different view as he attempts to win the first major of his otherwise stellar career.
"I'd like the weather to remain the way it is, which is benign, really, for here," he said. "We might be wearing sweaters, but it's our summer. If the conditions remain the same, that will be fine for me personally. I've never performed well in any sort of windy conditions. I prefer it to remain the way it is -- a breeze, to be honest . . . a nice summer's day."
Kendall would prefer not to think about any of it after a round that started to take flight when he holed out from a bunker at the 379-yard No. 3. He eventually soared into the lead for the first time at the 542-yard 16th hole when his 3-wood approach to the green came up just short. He putted anyway, "and I felt like I had a really good read on it. My caddie and I saw the exact same thing, that it was going to break about a foot or so to the left. Even though it was 50 feet, it was one of those you feel like you can really make."
Now, if he can control his emotions over the weekend, he also feels like anything is possible.
"If I can stay relaxed and not get caught up in what we're really doing and just play golf . . . have fun, I think I'll be fine," he said. "Some people think they need to check my pulse, but I know when that's elevated. Outwardly I may not look uptight or nervous, but I know inside how I feel. And to play my best golf, I know I need to be that way -- very calm and kind of like that peaceful thing."