2005: PGA Championship - Elkington hale enough to make a run to the wire

Springfield, N.J.

Steve Elkington’s body, 42, is well again. He hasn’t been a hospital patient for two years.

Such good and unusual news usually means his golf game is in fine form. So at Baltusrol, you might say the PGA Championship leaderboard indicated a clean bill of health.

“I’ve always played well when I haven’t had anything wrong with me,” said Elkington, who counts the 1995 PGA and two Players Championships among his 10 PGA Tour victories. “What a shock.”

This time, the Australian by way of Houston had what he called a “dream start,” birdieing Nos. 2-4 in the first round. Just about the whole ride was memorable. He said he played as well as he ever has during an outgoing 33 Sunday. That helped him build a two-stroke lead through the 12th hole of his fourth round.

It’s the finish that was a bit of a nightmare. He bogeyed No. 13 on his lone three-putt of the week, missing from 60 and 8 feet. And just before bad weather halted play Sunday night, he bogeyed No. 15 after driving into a right bunker and missing a 7-foot par putt. That left him one stroke behind eventual winner Phil Mickelson.

Elkington on Monday morning would have a chance to post 4 under par and break a three-way tie with Mickelson and Thomas Bjorn. But his 10-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th broke from the right and hit the left lip. Two groups later, Mickelson got up and down for birdie at No. 18 to win by one.

“It was a hard putt to read, but I liked where I hit it,” said Elkington. “I wouldn’t change anything.”

Except the outcome.

“There’s no moral victory for coming in second in a major,” he said.

Majors can weigh on a player. Elkington went to bed Sunday night realizing you don’t get many major chances, especially if you’re 42. Tiger Woods stockpiles Grand Slam trophies, but others don’t.

“I was looking at the clock at midnight,” said Elkington, who ranked high in driving accuracy (14th), greens in regulation (17th) and total putts (10th). I was still looking at the clock at 2 in the morning thinking, ‘What could I have done to keep my lead or what could I have done differently?’ ”

Elkington has had two sinus surgeries, two bouts of viral meningitis, at least two melanomas removed, a hip surgery and right rotator cuff surgery in August 2003.

Last year he recovered from shoulder surgery and got his body, mind and swing in order.

New Jersey club pros Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett are among those who have helped him. Word is he’s such at range rat at Champions Golf Club in Houston that the wait staff sometimes brings sandwiches to the practice tee so he doesn’t have to come in.

“I’m pretty happy about being able to get myself back up to this point,” Elkington said. “I’ve done it about two or three times, so I’m getting pretty good at it.”

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