Crane missing Open could be 'blessing in disguise'

Ben Crane tees off on the third hole during the first round of the Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament at Firestone Country Club, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, in Akron, Ohio.

AKRON, Ohio - Ben Crane would have gotten into the Open Championship as first alternate when Russ Cochran withdrew the morning of the first round. But Crane was in Oregon on a family vacation at the time, having made the decision over the two previous days not to travel to Lytham St. Annes, England, to sit, wait and hope.

“It’s like we’ve got a putt and you think it’s a ball out on the left edge, so you make your best decision,” Crane said Thursday after shooting a first-round 4-under 66 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “Sometimes it breaks a little more than you think and you go, I guess it was a ball out.”

Yes, it was. Crane gambled and lost out on a chance of playing in a major championship. The Open turned out to be a ball out. As a result, second alternate Michael Thompson got into the field and Crane stayed on holiday.

Despite the fact Crane thinks his game is rounding into shape nicely, he maintains he still he has no regrets over not traveling to England. After all, as of Tuesday night of Open week, he needed two players to pull out, so he thought his chances weren’t good. It wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that Robert Karlsson was the first to withdraw.

“I didn’t think I was going to get in,” Crane said. “I was talking to a couple of guys on site and they’re like, we don’t see anyone hobbling. So there were two withdrawals we didn’t see coming.”

Crane, of course, opened himself to second-guessing. But it’s hard to beat him up too much. He’s 35, with a history of back issues. He has missed the cut in four of his five Open Championships, with a best finish of T-11 in 2006. He was on vacation with his wife and three kids. His odds didn’t look good. And he did make the effort to line up a friend’s private jet in case he had to get there at the last minute.

“I wish I would have gotten in, but I got two weeks off before a lot of big tournaments coming up,” the four-time PGA Tour winner said. “Maybe this is a blessing in disguise.”

Maybe, maybe not. Maybe Crane would have shot 66 in the first round at Royal Lytham. We’ll never know.

Two things are certain: He enjoyed his time off, and his golf game seems in form.

He and his family did a fair amount of swimming at the Black Butte Ranch resort in Oregon. He caddied for his wife and gave her a few lessons. Then he came here and reattached his game face.

On Wednesday.

He and Phil Mickelson took down Keegan Bradley and Dustin Johnson in a practice round. Mickelson has helped Crane with some shots and a mental approach in recent weeks, and that continued Wednesday.

“He was calling himself 'The Golf Whisperer' out there,” Crane said.

Crane, for years known as a slow player, has been trying to simplify things in his approach. See the shot and go, in other words.

Whatever, something worked Thursday at Firestone Country Club. And that something was his short game.

Crane hit but five fairways and eight greens in regulation, but he turned a bad round into a good one by taking only 23 putts. He made two long ones – from 23 and 21 feet – and made five in the 5-10-foot range.

“There are so many days when you hit the ball great and don’t score well,” said Crane, 35th in FedEx Cup points on the strength of four top-10 finishes. “So I’ll take this.”

Crane will prepare for next week’s PGA Championship the same way. He and Mickelson are giving Bradley-Johnson a rematch at Kiawah Island.

Little wonder then that Mickelson’s caddie, Jim "Bones" Mackay, saw that Crane shot 66 and told him, “I don’t want you peaking before Tuesday, so easy now.”

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