RENO - During the third round of the Reno-Tahoe Open on Saturday at Montreux Golf and Country Club, a tournament worker introduced each golfer when they approached the 18th green. Besides being a nice gesture, it was also necessary since the gallery couldn't be expected to know who Carl Paulson or Brian Gay were from 100 yards away. Or even from 20 yards away.
But when Jean Van De Velde made his way to the 18th green, the worker didn't have to speak up. The crowd already knew it was Van De Velde because the Frenchman landed his second shot only a few feet from the pin.
It was just that type of round for him.
"In the morning when I was hitting balls, it was getting very windy," Van De Velde said. "So I thought, 'If you put a good round together today, you might get close to the lead.'"
He was almost right. Van De Velde's seven-under 65 actually gave him a two-shot lead over Brian Henninger, who shot a 71, as the two square off today at 12:30 p.m. in the final round of the RTO.
Nine players are within five shots of Van De Velde, including Bob May (10-under), Doug Dunakey (-10) and Scott McCarron (-9). Dunakey led the field on Saturday with his eight-under 64.
"It was just one of those days," said Dunakey, who didn't even play a practice round before the tournament started. "I woke up, I was in a good mood, the sun was shining, and I just felt comfortable."
So here Van De Velde is again, leading after three rounds and in position to win his first PGA Tour event. Just like in 1999 at the British Open. Although he mentioned that the memory of triple bogeying the 18th hole at Scotland's Carnoustie Golf Club will always linger, even if the 34-year-old wins 50 more tournaments.
"I think the memories would still be alive no matter how many wins I have," he said. "If I arrive three ahead here on the 72nd hole, let's see if I can manage to do better than a triple."
Van De Velde squandered his three-shot British Open lead on No. 18 after hitting a series of erratic shots. His drive landed in the rough and instead of laying up on his second shot, he went for the green. His ball then hit the grandstands and a wall before landing in more thick rough. His third shot went into the water. He almost tried to hit his ball out of the water before deciding to take a drop. Then, well, you get the picture.
"And you know it's not quite the same hole as the 18th at Carnoustie," he said about Montreux's No. 18.
Since then, Van De Velde has been well-received by fans worldwide, despite coming up short in what could've been his finest moment at the British Open. Van De Velde's lone career victory came in 1993 when he won the Roma Masters on the European Tour. This is his first full year playing on the PGA Tour.
"There's a lot of people pulling for me in Europe and I've got a lot of support,"Van De Velde said. "Here, I go to a different place every week and because it's the first time I go there, they are kind to me and pull for me. That's very good."
Besides Van De Velde's second-place finish at the British, he also finished second at the Touchstone Energy Tucson Open in February.
"I think there are plenty of seconds in there," he said. "It's probably time to move on to the higher step."