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Mackenzie's moment in the sun
Try to imagine playing golf for a living. Most frustrated middle-age club golfers have, but in most cases few choose to imagine themselves in testing bowel-moving situations.

Imagine, if you will, how you'd feel after 20 years of tournament golf without a win; with a bank manager harrying you about your overdraft; your wife, albeit supportive, repeatedly mentioning the infrequency of family holidays and the long awaited extension to the house. Imagine the self-doubt that must be creeping in after 508 tournament starts and the same number of defeats. Imagine reaching the age of 40 after watching your friends and contemporaries take major titles, buy aeroplanes and second homes in Bermuda. Imagine then finding yourself leading the French Open going into the last day with Jose Maria Olazabal one stroke behind.

Could you even bend over to put a tee into the ground, far less balance a ball upon it?

This is exactly the situation that the amiable, much liked and highly regarded Malcolm Mackenzie found himself in on Sunday afternoon on the first tee of the Paris National Course at Versailles. The mere fact that he was able to tee up the ball and hit it straight down the middle established him with a place on my heroes board. He maintained his heroic ranking through eight holes until Olazabal bogied the par five 9th - which Mackenzie managed to birdie after a topped second shot, a wedge shot to a mediocre 20 feet and a putt that had a good look at the cup before falling into it.

Ollie had blown it, of course, but was Mackenzie surviving on serendipity or character? The answer was forthcoming over the closing holes.

The last five holes of the Paris National are as penal as they come. Indeed, they must have been designed by a committee on unrefined hallucinogenic agents under a directive from Waterworld Inc.

At the 15th, 16th and 18th holes there are at least six good chances to hit it into water and few in the field could resist one chance and many took more.

Mackenzie held onto his three shot lead through 14 but found the water in front of the 15th green irresistible. He holed a six footer for a bogey but one had the feeling that he was on the slide. When he three-putted the 16th after missing from four feet, that impression was confirmed.

He dropped another shot at the 17th after a clearly nervy second finished well short of the green and he failed to get up and down. Heroes come and go.

Olazabal had fared little better over these closing holes and was out of the frame. But the 22-year-old South African, Trevor Immelman, indubitably an up and coming star, had finished on 275. Mackenzie required a birdie at the last hole for an outright win and, based upon his last 508 tournament appearances, it seemed unlikely that he had it in him to do it.

The fact that he did rockets him up my heroes board. This must have required sphincter clenching control beyond physiological possibilities and a psychological control matched only by mind numbing substances.

Hats should be doffed to Mackenzie, not least by Colin Montgomerie and Sandy Lyle. The former led after the first round with an uncharacteristic smile and a long explanation of his 'revert to type' philosophy that can seriously damage the listeners mind. Colin did indeed revert to type and finished with a scowl, well down the field.

Lyle played only a few holes on the first day before he realised that he had sore feet, due, he said, to new insoles in his shoes and that his glasses were also misting-up.

I feel for Monty and Lyle. It must be very hard when your game starts to fail after enjoying such success. But both should be wealthy enough and certainly have character enough to live with it. They should never forget that there is a multitude of talent out there that would kill for a tournament place.

Lyle depends upon his position in 34th place in the all-time money winners list to play in Europe. This is extended to the top-40 and he is likely to find himself out of the bracket at any moment now. Dependent on sponsors invitations to play, sore feet and misted up glasses are not likely to endear him to the increasingly wary moneymen.

Malcolm Mackenzie pocketed £200,000 for his self-control  over twice as much as he made in the whole of last year. His card is now secure and he knows at last that he has it in him to win. He has experienced a place in the sun. Twice a major winner Lyle, and seven times European Order of Merit leader Montgomerie will continue to bemoan their shift into the shade while Malcolm Mackenzie will continue to look for a place to shelter from the rain. Such is the world of pro golf.

©    7 - MAY 2002

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