Ames Just Slightly Off The Mark: 2005

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Pat Fletcher’s reign as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the last Canadian to win the Canadian Open?”
will continue for at least one more year. That means it will be at least 52 years between Canadian triumphs in their national championship. Not that Calgary’s Stephen Ames didn’t desperately try to change that.

Photo Credit Greg Corp - Quiet Light Photography
Mark Calcavecchia may have won the golf tournament, but it was Ames who won the crowd and in the process may have nudged another Canadian to one side in the role of torch bearer.

Coming into the 2005 Open at Vancouver’s Shaughnessy G&CC, it seemed all of Canada’s eyes and hopes were on Mike Weir. But once Weir stumbled early on and failed to make the cut, as indeed every other Canadian did except Ames, the job of carrying the flag was his alone for the weekend. No less than 16 Canadians were in the field and although casualties were to be expected, the odds of Ames being the lone Canuck to play Saturday and Sunday had to be a tad long. As it turned out, however, he held the colours up pretty high. And he did it under one of the most difficult tests of golf the PGA TOUR players have faced all year.

There was a lot of talk coming into the tournament, as there always seems to be when PGA TOUR events are held out west, about the lack of strength or depth in the field. Many thought that having the championship played on an historic, tree-lined old course such as Shaughnessy would be an added draw in attracting the world’s top players. With perfect weather conditions for all four days of the tournament, the course was allowed to show itself off and proved to be a true test of golf for an open championship. As it was, the venue got mostly rave reviews from those who did take make the trip.
Of course the devilish rough did evoke its share of grumbles from some players as well, including Ames. When asked whether he thought the golf course was fair, Ames answered honestly, as is his wont, “To be truthful, no, I don’t. I think the fairway rough is fair,” he said, “It’s even, it’s not patchy like it is around the greens. Around the greens, horrendous as far as I’m concerned.” That sentiment was echoed somewhat more harshly by Australian Robert Allenby who said, “The rough is just ridiculous. It’s not a U.S. Open, I know it’s a national title, but it’s not a U.S. Open. It was easier at the U.S. Open, the rough.” It is possible Allenby’s angst was due to the fact that he missed the cut.

Despite the trying conditions, if players hit fairways and greens they stood a good chance of scoring well. There were a number of very good scores posted throughout the four rounds. Not the least of which was Ames’ third round where he fashioned a nifty 64, tying the record set by Lanny Wadkins back in 1978 during the CPGA Championship. At that time the course was played as a par 72 and wasn’t stretched out to the over 7,000 yards like it was for this event. Mind you, Wadkins was also using persimmon woods and a wound golf ball. Regardless of that, 64 was probably the worst score Ames could have posted as he missed a handful of makeable birdie putts in a row in which he felt he only hit one bad shot, that being his first drive of the day. Things apparently improved dramatically after that, as he recorded a 30 on his front nine. He added one more birdie to go with 8 pars on his back nine and reflected on not only how good it felt to shoot that score, but to have his wife Jodi back healthy again after a bout with lung cancer. “Obviously the fact that she’s out walking around and following me again like she did in the past is great. I think overall it has been a big weight taken off my shoulders and life is a bit easier not to worry about the future of where the family is going to be or what is going to happen in the future.”

The 6-under par 64 by Ames followed his rather pedestrian 73-70 opening rounds and quickly vaulted him from mere participant to contender at minus-3 heading into Sunday’s final round. Meanwhile, 1997 Greater Vancouver Open champion Mark Calcavecchia had posted rounds of 65-67 in the early going to fashion a 5 shot lead at 8-under par. While Ames was putting together his record tying round, Calcavecchia was cooperating by carding a birdie-free round of 72. “The good news about making no birdies today is it can’t possible happen two days in a row,” said Calcavecchia. “Maybe I’m saving all of them for tomorrow. Maybe I’ll bust out with six or seven of them tomorrow and that will be the end of the story. I guarantee you I’ll make some birdies tomorrow.” Well, he was partly right. Not making any birdies didn’t happen to him two days in a row. But it wasn’t the six or seven he hoped for either.

As the final round got underway, the possibility of an exciting finish seemed to hang in the air. Calcavecchia still led at 6-under, but now by only one over Craig Barlow and golf’s flamboyant dresser, Jesper Parnevik. Barlow had thrust himself into the limelight on Saturday when he had an eagle, birdie, par, hole-in-one stretch to jump into the fray at 5-under for the tourney. Right behind that duo was Ryan Moore, the promising young rookie from Puyallup, Washington at 4-under and then a group at minus-3 that included Ames, defending champion Vijay Singh, Jerry Kelly and Brian Davis. For his part, Singh, the world number two, played himself into contention after an opening round 73 by following up with scores of 66 and 68 to get to 3-under and within three shots of the lead. Surprisingly though, the man with the best final round scoring average of the group contending fired a two over 72 to fall into a T7th.

Photo Credit Greg Corp - Quiet Light Photography
As the day wore on it looked like the fairy tale finish so many Canadians were hoping for just might take place. Ames played the front nine in 1-under 34 as did Calcavecchia who made his lone birdie of the weekend at number 5. But when Calcavecchia bogeyed the 10th hole for the second straight day, there was only one shot between them.

Meanwhile, as all eyes were on the evolving race between Ames and Calcavecchia, notoriously slow playing Ben Crane of Beaverton, Oregon was crossing the finish line in his role as the slowpoke in the tortoise versus the hare, firing a final round 66. Suddenly he was in the clubhouse lead at 4-under par.

With that number now posted it became abundantly clear to those still on the course what they had to do. Unfortunately for him, Craig Barlow wasn’t about to duplicate his heroics of the day before and he went quietly with a final round 77 and dropped into a tie for14th. In the second to last group with Ames and Moore was England’s Brian Davis. He too slid from sight with a 75 to join Barlow in 14th place. Both Moore and Ames came to the 72nd hole sitting at 3-under and knowing at the very least they needed a birdie to catch Crane and have any chance of a playoff should Calcavecchia falter.

In spectacular fashion, Moore played a fabulous approach from 201 yards with a five iron to within a couple of feet and made the putt for birdie to get to minus-4 and tie Crane one back of Calcavecchia. Sadly for the Canadian contingent urging Stephen Ames on, he just couldn’t come up with the shot he so desperately needed and all their hopes sunk along with his golf ball in the deep rough to the left of the 18th fairway. By the time he had hacked it out…and then back in again to the left of the green, he eventually had to settle for a disappointing double bogey that dropped him to 1-under for the tournament and a T7th. Still it was worth over $155,000 US and moved him to 86th on the money list with more than $784,000 US.

Of course there was still some drama left as the final group stood on the 18th tee. Calcavecchia has often talked about his “mental demons” and he knew he would have to fend them off needing a par for the win. “I’ve blown tournaments on the 18th hole before with bad drives,” he said later, “ I thought of none of that, just concentrated and hit it hard…I hit it really good.” He hit the fairway with his tee shot and just needed to make a ‘routine’ par on the 472 yard, par 4 finisher to claim the Canadian Open crown. He then made what he called “a swing he’ll refer to in his mind for the rest of his life” and nailed a 183 yard 6 iron to 8 feet and needed only two putts to clinch the win. Vancouver has definitely become one of Mark Calcavecchia’s favourite places to play, having won twice there now. As he said after the tournament, “I am territorial. I think seven of my twelve wins have come in three places.” He now becomes the oldest player ever to win the Open at age 45.

The outcome for Ames could have been quite different if a few putts had dropped on Sunday. Over the first fourteen holes, he lipped out twice and burned the high edge a couple more times. A missed birdie putt on 16 and  a birdie chip on 17 that ended oh-so-close virtually sealed his fate. And with the way Calcavecchia finished, he would have needed to make both.

Afterwards Ames said despite his awkward finish, that, “I think overall it was a great week. I think the RCGA did a helluva job in preparing the golf course, getting it ready for the Canadian Open. I think overall the golf course has probably been recognized as being one of the best, if not the best, in Canada for playing the Canadian Open on and I just hope in the future we get to play on golf courses like this more often.” Asked about his last few holes he added, “I tried to make birdies on the last couple of holes and it didn’t come out that way, unfortunately. I guess you’ve got to put that down to pressure. I haven’t been in that situation, and I was trying to force the issue a little bit, maybe, rather than just letting it happen. But for me this is a good turnaround from what I’ve gone through this year. I’m looking forward to the last four events that I’ve got to play in and definitely get myself ready for next year, to start knocking on the door again.”

He was also asked if the added pressure of playing at home can be almost too much, to which he responded, “Yes. It can be. Without a doubt. I think that on the whole, Canadians are hungry for a Canadian champ. Mike (Weir) has definitely stepped into that role and it’s added a lot of pressure onto the gentleman.” Pressure, it would seem, that he’ll now have to share with Canada’s newest “hometown” hero.
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By Bryan Outram

Bryan Outram has been editor-in-chief for Inside Golf for the past eight years.

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