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Archive for Sunday, June 15, 2003

Surprising Leaney making run at title

June 15, 2003

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— Stephen Leaney relied on his experience from the PGA European Tour to calm his nerves. He's in position now to play his biggest day of golf.

The 34-year-old Australian shot a 68 Saturday -- his third sub-par round in as many days -- and is just three shots back of U.S. Open leader Jim Furyk headed into today's final round.

Imagine this scenario: A guy who's been to qualifying school five times and still doesn't have his tour card is in second place at one of the world's most prestigious golf tournaments.

"Obviously, it's a major championship and a very big deal. I've never been here before and I'm not going to kid myself," said Leaney, who is 7-under for the tournament.

Leaney started the day at 5-under and had three birdies on the front nine before his round nearly collapsed.

But after a double bogey on the 10th and a bogey on No. 11, a par save on the 12th re-energized him. He wrapped up his day with a birdie on the 18th when he knocked a 7-iron to within 2 feet on his second shot.

"On 12, I managed to get up and down and that stopped me from dropping four shots in three holes," he said. "That was key."

Leaney has three wins on the PGA European Tour, including the Linde German Masters last year. He's playing in only his second U.S. Open after missing the cut last year at Bethpage.

All eyes will be on him today, even more so than when he lost to Tiger Woods in the third round of the Match Play Championship in February.

"Let's be honest, this is a major and everyone gets nervous," he said. "I'm nervous on every shot, but I've learned to control it in the past. It's no different to winning the tournament in Germany. You have to go through the same procedures. It's just, this is bigger. I have to go through the same drills and pre-shot routines tomorrow as I have in the past."

And Leaney appreciates where he is right now because of where he's been.

Ten years ago, a blood clot in his arm made it necessary for doctors to take out one of his ribs to alleviate the problem. He needed 18 months to recover from the surgery.

"It set me back, but I've had worse. It's just one of those things you go through," he said. "Looking back, I might be glad it happened to me in an early part of my career because I realized I wasn't working so hard at the time."

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