Hamilton (remember him?) finds flash of that '04 form

Todd Hamilton broke 70 in the Open Championship for the first time since he won the title in 2004.

Todd Hamilton broke 70 in the Open Championship for the first time since he won the title in 2004.

GULLANE, Scotland –- In what would prove to be the pinnacle of his career, Todd Hamilton won the Open Championship in 2004 at Royal Troon, defeating Ernie Els in a four-hole playoff.

That was the last time Hamilton won a tournament, the last time he broke 70 in an Open Championship.

When Hamilton beat Els, he did it with the final three rounds in the 60s, including a closing 69.

Since winning, Hamilton has an opening-round stroke average of 75.5, but that all went by the wayside Thursday at Muirfield in the 142nd Open Championship as he shot 2-under 69 and finally found himself back on the leaderboard.

“I made a good putt on No. 9 to shoot even par (on the front nine)," said Hamilton, who added two birdies on the back. "And I remember when I won in '04 the first round on 18, I made the same-length putt to shoot even par. For some reason, to say I shot even instead of 1 over – even though it's only one shot, which is really nothing – that meant a lot to me. And I think making that putt on 9 kind of gave me a little kick in the rear end. It was probably 25 to 30 feet.”

Hamilton’s last nine years seems to have been a series of 25-to 30-foot putts that he had not converted. He lost his PGA Tour card in 2009 and since then has divided his time between the U.S. and the European Tour.

Hamilton, 47, an 11-time winner on the Japan Tour before his breakthrough 2004 season, never played very well in Europe. The Westlake, Texas, resident has returned to the U.S. this season to play on the Web.com Tour, where he has made only three cuts in 10 events. He missed cuts in his two PGA Tour starts, at Pebble Beach and in last week's John Deere Classic.

“I definitely thought my golfing career would have been better after that (2004 Open Championship victory) than it was,” Hamilton said. “Looking back, though, I had done a lot of good things overseas at places that people probably wouldn't know that golf even exists. I played a lot in Japan; I played a lot in Asia. So when I won the Open, I was kind of at the end.”

Now Hamilton, just a few years shy of the Champions Tour, faces what likely will be one of his last good chances in a major championship. Hamilton hopes he has found the formula with a new driver and new putter in the bag this week.

He says the TaylorMade SLDR driver is a little longer, produces less spin and allows more runout on the hard Muirfield fairways.

The putter, a Scott Cameron model, was an accidental discovery.

“I was in the back of the Titleist van and Scotty Cameron bags looking for a putter, and this is the one I choose,” Hamilton said. “I almost didn’t even use it today. I was thinking of going back to the old one because I like a B60 style or something with a flange in the back.”

Hamilton clearly is searching for his form of the past, and for one day, at least, he found it.

“There's always something out there you can do to make you play better, whether it's a club, maybe a club that's built a certain way or bent a certain way,” Hamilton said. “There's always something that you can find that it may only last a couple months. It would be the workers' equivalent of going paycheck to paycheck. Bend that club a little bit open; that will get you another couple months of good play. If that doesn't work, get a putter out of the back of the closet and that'll get you three months. I think there's always something you can do.”

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