Fresh off a bogey-free round of 5-under-par 66 and a shot ahead of the field, Todd Hamilton sat in the interview room at Harbour Town Golf Links on Friday and ticked off the things that went well for him during the second round of the Verizon Heritage -- driving, chipping, pitching, bunker play, putting ...
"Some things I haven't been doing well over the last four years, three years," Hamilton said. "I haven't played all that great for quite a while."
Harbour Town did its best Quentin Tarantino impression Friday, as a couple of players hoping to end lengthy winless streaks remained near the top of the leaderboard, and Hamilton appears the most likely to play the role of John Travolta.
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The 43-year-old won twice during his surprising rookie-of-the-year season in 2004, when he won the British Open and earned more than $3 million. But his luck has since dried up, and the five-year exemption that came with his Open title soon will, too. It runs out at the end of this season, and after missing the cut in his first five events and seven of his first eight this year, that fact hit him hard.
"Getting off to a slow start, I think that's when I started thinking, man, you better start doing something and not waste your opportunity," Hamilton said. "You've got one year of a free pass left. You better start getting after it."
He did so last week at the Masters, playing his way into contention on Thursday and Friday before settling for a tie for 15th, his highest finish since 2006. His resurgence continued Friday at Harbour Town, where a tidy 66 got him in the clubhouse with the lead and left him one shot behind Brian Gay at the midway point of the tournament.
This was familiar territory for Hamilton once upon a time -- he won four times in 2003, the last year of a decade playing in Japan, then won twice during his rookie year -- but his name hasn't graced many leaderboards since.
He got off to a decent start in 2005, but made only five cuts in his last 16 starts that season and only 17 in the next two years combined. On Friday, Hamilton recalled that slippery slope beginning here at Harbour Town, where he tied for 22nd in 2005, but hismemory isn't quite right. He made the cut in his next four tournaments after leaving here, including a pair of 18th-place finishes, before the slide began -- but once it started, it was precipitous.
But in Hamilton's mind, the spiral started here -- "I had a really good finish in '05 here, and it seemed like after that I just tanked," he says -- so maybe this place owes him one.
This game has a way of evening things out that way.
"A good friend of mine that caddies out here for a guy ... he says anybody that has their name on their golf bag is a registered lunatic, meaning that pro golfers at some point are going to go nuts," Hamilton said. "This game will drive you crazy."
Letting a victory slip away after being this close would be even more maddening, especially with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance. Because as crazy as this game might make him, having to find another line of work doesn't sound too appealing, either.
"I don't know how to do a whole lot of other things," Hamilton said. "My father owned a grocery store when I was growing up, and I was a pretty good bagger. I could sack groceries pretty good. I didn't like to dust off the shelves. I didn't mind carrying the ladies' groceries out for them. ... But I wouldn't want to have to do that."
Two more days like Friday, and he won't have to worry about it for at least another couple of years.