Kenneth Ferrie ready for Sunday showdown
If the crowd at the U.S. Open hadn't already proclaimed their affection and support for one of the third-round co-leaders, the other might have stolen their hearts.
Winged Foot, like a few other golf courses in the New York area, is Phil Mickelson's turf as he looks for his third straight major championship. Kenneth Ferrie, a 27-year-old Englishman in his first U.S. Open, acts and sounds a lot like the wildly popular Lefty.
"I think I'm a likable guy, and I'm sure a lot of people may see it opposite," Ferrie said Saturday after his 1-over 71 left him tied for the lead with Mickelson with one round to go. "I'm down to earth. I always figured that's what people like to see. I'm a normal guy from a normal family in England and I'm good at golf, and that's what I am and I think a lot of people can relate to that."
A two-time champion in his seventh year on the PGA European Tour, Ferrie isn't recognized by many in the United States and he may not look familiar to many in England, either, after losing 55 pounds since last year.
Like Mickelson, he's an everyman, the kind of golfer crowds cheer for, except when he's playing every man's champion.
"He's all right, isn't he? Not a bad little player," Ferrie said of Mickelson, who shot 69, one of two subpar rounds on Saturday, to get to 2-over 212. "He's a huge fan favorite and I'm a big fan of his as well. I've bumped into him a few times in Europe, at Loch Lomond to say hello. Whether he'd remember me, I don't know."
Even if Mickelson hadn't noticed Ferrie in the past, he'll see plenty of him Sunday.
"He's in the final group of the U.S. Open, so he must be some kind of player," Mickelson said.
Ferrie was tied for third after two rounds and moved up the leaderboard with a birdie at No. 3 and a tap-in eagle at No. 5. He took the lead alone when he parred No. 8 and co-leader Steve Stricker bogeyed No. 6, but gave it up with bogeys at the ninth, 13th and 18th, the last a three-putt from 30 feet.
What happened on No. 18?
"There were three of them, missed two, made the third," Ferrie said, drawing one of several laughs from media members around him. He said he hit a big drive and had 140 yards left to the green, a tough yardage because there is trouble if the second shot is short.
"I hit a 9-iron a little too good and left meself a really awkward putt," he said. "The first one wasn't too bad; the crowd thought it could have done a bit better, but I wasn't upset. The second one kind of bounced and bubbled and snaked away. It never really had a chance, to be honest. A poor way to finish, a sad way to finish, but 71 is not bad in the third round of a major."
Then he was asked what he thought Sunday would be like, playing in the final twosome.
"It's going to be an experience, hopefully a good one," he said. "We'll see tomorrow."
Ferrie, 11th last year on the European money list, knows what Sunday could mean to his career and popularity, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
"I'm in the game of golf to be as good as I can be, and obviously America is the biggest stage for that," he said. "If I can become a household name in America I must be doing something right. That's kind of the idea that came with the plans."
Last year's U.S. Open produced a huge fan favorite in Jason Gore, who was ranked 818th in the world but was three shots off the lead after three rounds. Gore's story didn't have a great ending as he shot an 84 in the final round and tied for 49th.
Fifteen Europeans made the cut this week. Six, including big names like Colin Montgomerie (215), Padraig Harrington (216) and Luke Donald (217), were in the top 15 after three rounds.
The last European to win a major was Paul Lawrie in the 1999 British Open. The last time a European won the U.S. Open was Tony Jacklin in 1970.
Ferrie was more than aware of those facts, but he won't be worrying about them when he tees off with Mickelson.
"I don't think many people are going to give me a chance to win since it's the first time I'll be in this situation," he said. "I have no idea meself how I'll handle it. I could go out guns blazing or totally shrink in the limelight. The pressures I'm going to face are for me. I can't carry the whole of Europe and hope I win one for Europe. If I do, it would be superb but I'm going out there and try to take care of meself."