Column: One guy who refused to wilt

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Done and dusted.

Those were Scott Dunlap's words. That's what he remembered about watching the majors on TV as a boy back in Georgia two dozen years ago. Every time he saw Jack Nicklaus climb to the top of the leaderboard, he knew the fate of everybody else.

Done and dusted.

On Saturday in the PGA Championship, Dunlap put himself in the middle of that telecast, knowing full well that the same thing has happened to everybody who runs up against this generation's Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, in the same situation. They wilt faster than lettuce.

He did not.

And by refusing to, Dunlap might have done more for himself, for journeymen everywhere, and maybe more for golf than he is likely to know. Dunlap started the day a stroke behind, then matched Woods shot for shot, twitch for twitch and escape for escape, until the only thing that separated at the end of the day was the same thing separating them at the beginning - a single stroke.

Both shot unsteady 70s, enabling Woods to remain the leader at 13 under. But because Bob May finished two groups earlier at 12 under, he goes off in the final group Sunday with Woods. Instead of cursing his bad luck, Dunlap handed off Woods to his tag team partner with some carefully chosen words.

''Hopefully, Bob will do the same thing I did,'' he said, ''which is get off to a good start and then ease into the round.''

It sounds simple enough. But this is what happened to some of the names that found themselves paired with Tiger in the third round of a major he went on to win:

Colin Montgomerie was the fare on Saturday in the 1997 Masters. Woods beat him by nine strokes. Lee Westwood took his place on the menu in the PGA Championship a year ago. Woods waxed him by six. Thomas Bjorn served himself up at Pebble Beach in June. Woods drubbed him by 11. David Toms scored a moral victory in the British Open. He only got beat by four.

None of them, though, had a story like Dunlap's. There are dozens of stories about journeymen in golf, but none of them read quite like Dunlap's, either.

He turned 37 on Wednesday. He's been a professional on three continents, and maintained a playing card on five tours as recently as last year. Dunlap used to joke that he was sponsored by MasterCard, when what he meant was that he was constantly testing his credit limit.

He even lived with his parents until six years ago, so he could chase his dream long after he'd exhausted every reason for doing so.

It was a long way from Duluth, Ga., to the final group Saturday. Heck, it was a long way from where Dunlap began the second round Friday. He had to make a pair of 12-footers to save par on the first two holes, a 40-footer for birdie at No. 3 to kickstart his round and another roller-coaster 35-footer at the 18th just to get his shot at Woods. More impressive was what he did with it.

A balky putter is what kept Dunlap picking his spots these last few years, still circling the globe like some Ulysses in cleats. He ranked 113th in putting on the PGA Tour last season and would have had to stay on the move for this one until a change in his grip wrought an even bigger change in his game and his attitude.

During Thursday's opening round, Dunlap needed only 26 putts; on Friday, 27. But Saturday, locked in a duel with the world's best player, his trouble with the short stick returned.

''Just a little tentative with the putter,'' he said. ''Given the situation, I guess it might be understandable. It's a little bit disappointing, but I won't complain.''

And here's why: Dunlap figured he'd have two tests to pass this weekend. The first was standing up to the pressure of major championship golf, and in company of Woods, no less. He passed that one, despite missing nine birdie putts inside 15 feet. The second will be building on that result, trying not just to hold his place, but to win.

''Tomorrow,'' Dunlap said before leaving for the day, ''is a whole new test.''

So it will be for Bob May, too. Like Dunlap, he has played nearly all of his golf the last few years outside the United States, choosing the European tour instead of the minitours back home.

But also like Dunlap, he has game now. And more important, a chance to put into practice the lessons he spent all these years on the road learning. He saw what Dunlap did with his shot, how he put himself on the map.

''If everyone wants to say I'm just a guy playing with Tiger, that's fine,'' May said. ''Hopefully I'll have a good round and maybe people will know me a little better.''

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Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org.

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