Column: The anonymous get their shot

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - We already know who can't beat Tiger Woods.

The names had their chances in the two previous majors and through two rounds of this one. So, there should be no more questions about what comes next: It's time for the anonymous to take their shots.

A handful of guys auditioned for the role Friday in the PGA Championship. The first to amble out of the scorer's tent within shouting distance of Woods goes by the handle of J.P. Hayes. He qualified for the spoiler role on the spot, since almost nobody had any idea what either the J or the P stood for.

''John and Patrick,'' Hayes patiently explained to a reporter for the Irish Times mining the golfer's brief bio for an angle. Hayes was only too happy to help.

''My family,'' he offered cheerfully, ''comes from Limerick.''

But his story comes right off the pages of one of those self-help manuals that are all the rage at the moment, a tale of hard work and perseverance that reminds us what's so wonderful about golf.

So are the stories attached to Scott Dunlap and Bob May, two other 30-somethings who scuffled to reach The Show and scuffle almost daily to stay there. And don't forget their patron saint this week, 44-year-old Fred Funk. He quit his job as golf coach at Maryland in 1989 to test the waters on the PGA Tour and despite five wins since, he's still better known as the darling of the two dozen-strong, pink-shirted ''Funk's Punks'' who double his gallery at The Players Championship every year.

The fact that should have catapulted all of them into the headlines this week is their presence on the leaderboard in the season's final major. That won't happen because of the guy who sits at the top - Woods.

Dunlap learned that the hard way a day earlier, when his 66 earned him a half-share of the opening-day lead but no more than a sliver of the attention. He shot 68 in round two to continue lurking just off Woods' shoulder at 10 under, proving just how unshakable Dunlap can be. In fact, anybody who knows anything about him knows the sponsor on his cap should be ''Dramamine'' instead of ''Titleist.''

Talk about fighting jet lag: Last year, Dunlap owned a playing card on five tours covering three continents and somehow finished ranked 87th in Europe, the United States and the world. The good news is that Dunlap doesn't have far to go to get his shot at No. 1; Saturday, after playing golf with lions, hippos and elephants nearby, he goes off in the final pairing with a Tiger.

''He's won more majors than I made cuts in,'' Dunlap said. ''It should be some day.''

Hayes had some day Friday, following up his 69 with a 68. Even so, he had no trouble containing his excitement at being the leader in the clubhouse. That was likely because Woods had yet to tee off.

''I fully expect he will be ahead of me when the day is over,'' Hayes predicted correctly. ''But I might be closer to him than I was when the day started.''

He turned out to be half-right. Some 90 minutes later, Woods reclaimed the lead at 8 under with his second birdie of the day at No. 5, but didn't stop there. He made four more to offset a lone bogey and returned to Valhalla's clubhouse at 11 under, then took his first long look at the leaderboard.

The only face most people could attach to the five names just below Woods belonged to Davis Love III, but he hardly scares anyone anymore. Love was already winless for a year when he got clocked in a series in head-to-head duels with Woods, and hasn't been the same since.

Of course, neither have any of the other golfers we expected to rise to the challenge Woods has thrown down. Instead, they've become the Washington Generals of golf.

Ernie Els, second in this season's three previous majors, was at 142 and in need of a miracle two-day run to get there in the fourth. David Duval never left his home in Idaho because of a bad back. Phil Mickelson was at 140, and Justin Leonard and Colin Montgomerie at 146. Hal Sutton missed the cut and two of the other guys who stood up to Woods during this latest run - Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood - will have trouble finding him now with a map. Sergio Garcia, who challenged Woods in the PGA last year, was at 143.

More than ever, Woods is turning major championship golf into something reminiscent of those exhibitions chess champion Bobby Fischer used to love to put on. Having worn out the serious competition, Fischer would take on a dozen anonymous comers all at once, moving from board to board at a clip fast enough to keep himself interested.

He almost never lost, but the strength those numbers afforded gave everybody facing him the least little glimmer of hope. So it will go Saturday, this time in the rolling hills outside Louisville.

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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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