- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2001

And then there were two.
The Great Flood formerly known as the Kemper Open has finally come down to a two-horse race between undecorated long shots Frank Lickliter II and J.J. Henry. The pair was tied at 16 under, four strokes clear of second-round leader Bradley Hughes and the rest of the field, when fourth-round play was suspended last night after another day defined by thunderstorms and rain delays. When play resumes today at 9 a.m., the two will decide which is the better mudder.
"It's unfortunate that we had the severe weather," said Henry, a Tour rookie who made just four cuts in 12 starts this season but moved into position yesterday by playing 32 holes in 10-under. "It's been a long, long day. But I think in a way [the grueling conditions] are to my advantage. I mean, I'm only 26, and I feel like I'm in pretty good shape. So I'm not really that tired… . This is something I've worked for all my life, to give myself a chance to win a golf tournament. So to be honest with you, I'm ready to go."
Henry, who was standing on the 15th tee at TPC at Avenel when play was suspended because of lightning at 6:42 p.m., has four holes left to add his name to the Kemper's long list of first-time PGA Tour champions. But that list, which features 11 names, including those of 1999 winner Rich Beem and last year's champion, Tom Scherrer, is almost certain to grow even in the case of a Henry hiccup. Despite his veteran status and higher profile, Lickliter also is in pursuit of his first trip to the winner's circle.
"I've been close a few times, but I'm not sure I've ever felt this confident about my game," said Lickliter, who played 27 holes yesterday in 8 under and will be facing an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 10 when play resumes this morning. "I'm really happy with the way I've played this week. I just want to maintain that tomorrow. If I do that, I think I'll be happy no matter what happens."
The 31-year-old Lickliter has amassed 23 top-10 finishes since joining the Tour in 1996, regularly flirting with victory. His best opportunity came earlier this year at the Buick Invitational, where Lickliter advanced to the fourth hole of a playoff with Phil Mickelson before a suspect decision doomed him to be bridesmaid once again. After watching Mickelson push a drive into the hazard that lines the left side of the hole, Lickliter stunned the golf world when he elected to stick with his driver on the tee instead of simply hitting an iron safely into the fairway. Lickliter proceeded to yank his drive into the same hazard that snatched Mickelson's ball and wound up losing the hole and the tournament when Mickelson posted a double-bogey to his triple.
Despite logic and the countless protestations of others, Lickliter continues to assert that he made the right decision on the hole.
"I had played that hole in 4-under over the first four rounds hitting driver," Lickliter said yesterday. "I had hit almost all my fairways for all my rounds, so why not use it there? I'd much rather hit sand wedge to that par-4 than 6-iron."
Perhaps it's that Van de Veldian decision-making that has left Lickliter winless despite his superb ball-striking skills and status as the world's No. 67 player.
"I hope I play well enough that there is no playoff tomorrow," Lickliter said. "But if that happens, I think I'll be a lot more prepared than I was for the first one."
One has to wonder.
Still, between Lickliter's experience and the fact that he has more holes left to play, including the reachable par-5 13th and driveable par-4 14th, most would have to call him the favorite for today's showdown. After all, Henry has never finished higher than tied for 27th on Tour (ironically also at the Buick Invitational).
"It's obviously been a little bit of a frustrating year so far for me," said Henry, who was unflappable yesterday despite two storm delays and a third stoppage that ended the action. "I was trying to learn a little bit each week from a lot of the veteran players each round because I knew my time would come… . Frank's been out here awhile. He's a great player, and I'm sure I'll have to finish strong to win. But I'm just going to go out with a good attitude, and hopefully it will happen for me."
Don't scoff. Henry fits the Beem/ Scherrer bolt-from-nowhere mold much better than Lickliter. And though Henry isn't ranked among the world's top 200 players, he isn't a complete unknown to golf insiders. After all, Henry was an All-American at TCU in 1998 and was named the co-college player of the year by Golfweek. And just last week at the Buy.com Richmond Open, Henry was tied for the lead through three rounds before finishing fourth. The youngster from Fairfield, Conn., is playing near-flawless golf. He had 32 holes worth of chances to fold yesterday but made just one bogey while carding 11 birdies and a slew of steady pars.
And let's face it, the Kemper Open seems to have developed a taste for rookies like Henry, not career also-rans, which Lickliter is fast becoming.
"This tournament has obviously been in the back of my mind, being a rookie," said Henry, who was fully aware of Avenel's history when he stepped on the property for the first time a week ago. "No matter what happens, it's been a great week and something I can build on the rest of the year."


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