Hennie Otto’s Last Chance

He didn’t start out thinking that it would be possible but it all comes down to Sunday’s final round at the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational played at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. By virtue of having won the 2011 Dimension Data Pro-Am, Otto was exempt into Firestone. In addition to the top 50 players in the World Ranking and winners of U.S. and European PGA Tour events, there are five tournaments from the lesser world tours—Japan, Australasian, Southern Africa and Asian—that are “designated” as prestigious locally and whose winner is exempt into Bridgestone too.

I never heard of the Dimension Data Pro-Am, so I looked it up. It’s a tournament on the South African Sunshine Tour that dates back to 1996 and has been won by such luminaries as Nick Price, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen and the aforementioned Mr. Otto who hails from South Africa.

Otto, ranked No. 202 in the world, was having a pretty good tournament until Saturday. He was 5-under shooting 69, 66 the first two days and then shot 5-over on the third. And he was actually 7-over through 12 and then made 2 birdies in the closing holes. The net effect of all of this is that he tumbled down the leaderboard…and right into Tiger Woods’ lap.

Actually not right into Tiger’s lap—Otto still has a 1-stroke lead over him—but they will be paired together in Sunday’s final round. In Tiger’s rusty state, Otto actually has a chance to beat Woods in a head-to-head match. Now I grant you it’s not going to be one of the marquee matches, but it is illustrative of the myriad of back stories strewn across the leaderboard. It’ll be interesting to watch this one. Will three rounds have been enough for Woods to throw off the rust and rise like a phoenix up the leaderboard? Or will Otto return to form and strike a blow for the Southern African Tour? We’ll see.

The marquee stories are at the top of the leaderboard and there is none more compelling than Adam Scott who will be paired with Ryo Ishikawa. As everyone knows, Tiger fired Steve Williams as his caddie of 12 or 13 years (but who’s counting?) and Williams went to work for Scott full time. It was his preceding part time work for Scott that got him fired for disloyalty.

But before Williams would commit to working full time for Scott, he insisted that he was not interested in working for someone who was not equally committed to what it takes to win tournaments. Scott has many outside interests that may be interfering with realizing the talent everyone has always seen in him. Williams wanted his promise that he’ll be more diligent.

He received the promise and Scott now sits with a 1-shot lead in a pretty big deal tournament. And one would assume that Williams would be “gratified” to be able to push his new man over the top, but also for his old man to be there to see it.

Ishikawa tied for the low round of the day with a 6-under 64. He is No. 50 in the world, 2nd on the Japan Golf Tour money list and is only 19 years old. He looked very solid Saturday and produced a clean card. He’s also a good story because he was so moved by the devastation from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, he pledged his entire 2011 winnings to the relief efforts. All of it. Now that’s commitment.

Aussie Jason Day is tied with Ryo after shooting a 4-under 66 that included 2 bogeys. He is not afraid to go low; he shot an 8-under 64 at the Masters of all places. And he has a very earnest bearing about him; you can tell that he wants this tournament.

Day will be paired with Keegan Bradley who is just 2 back. Winner of this year’s Byron Nelson, he has as his mentor his aunt, LPGA Tour legend, Pat Bradley, and there seemed a fierceness in him Saturday.

Also 2 back is Scot, Martin Laird who is having a very fine tournament. He’ll be paired with Luke Donald who is still World No. 1 and also shot 6-under Saturday. He’s just 3 strokes back along with Fredrik Jacobson and Rickie Fowler.

Then you have Zach Johnson 4 shots back and Rory McIlroy and Steve Stricker 5 shots.

The WGC has to be jumping up and down with glee over this leaderboard.

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