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Solid all-around play, including this bunker shot on the sixth hole, have Stephen Ames sitting pretty at the 89th PGA Championship. (Photo: Getty Images)
Solid all-around play, including this bunker shot on the sixth hole, have Stephen Ames sitting pretty at the 89th PGA Championship. (Photo: Getty Images)

Canadian Ames hopes captain Player is paying attention

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Sure, Stephen Ames is focused on trying to win his first major at the 89th PGA Championship. But the Canadian also has in the back of his mind the upcoming Presidents Cup, and a good finish at Southern Hills would force International captain Gary Player to take notice.

By Dave Shedloski, Senior Correspondent

TULSA, Okla. -- Stephen Ames was hoping to make a statement this week at the 89th PGA Championship. So far, the adopted Canadian is delivering a message in boldface type to Gary Player, the captain of the International Team for next month's Presidents Cup.

With his second consecutive round under par at sultry Southern Hills Country Club, a 1-under-par 69 on Friday, Ames put himself in a capital position to capture his first major championship and perhaps in the process earn a berth on Player's squad that will try to recapture the Presidents Cup from the Americans at Royal Montreal in Quebec.

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"It's in my mind to some extent," said Ames, the 2006 PLAYERS champion, whose 3-under 137 total trailed Scott Verplank by a stroke midway through the second round. "I've actually looked at some other players who are in the running, should I say, as a pick, because I know the first of the ten -- Anders Romero is 10th right now but everybody else -- you look at the players who are playing well or have been playing well who are in the forefront. Everybody who is in between me and the 10th spot is behind me on the leaderboard. So those are things I'll be looking at, obviously, because I would like to play the Presidents Cup.

"I think having it in Montreal deserves having a Canadian on the team," added Ames, who moved to Canada 13 years ago from Trinidad & Tobago and became a Canadian citizen in 2003. "If it means that I have to play my way in or at least give Mr. Player a tingle of a thought that Mr. Ames has played well at the PGA, maybe he deserves to get on to the team, yeah, that's my goal, try to get onto there."

Given that Tim Clark earned a captain's pick on the strength of his third-place PGA finish in 2003, Ames knows that a precedent has been set. And thus far, he is giving Player plenty to think about.

Thanks to a slight change in his putting grip -- he is holding the club more in the palm of his left hand instead of in the fingers -- Ames has rediscovered his stroke on the tricky Southern Hills greens. He has averaged 28 putts per round and converted four birdies each day. A chip-in to save par at the 16th didn't hurt, either.

"Putting has been different this week for me," said Ames, who ranks 128th on the PGA TOUR in putting average. "Putting has been a bit of a downfall for most of the year, actually. We've changed a couple things and it's working nicely."

Ames is no stranger to competing well in big events or on tough courses. He has that PLAYERS title to his credit, and earlier this summer he tied for 10th in the U.S. Open at another disagreeable course, Oakmont Country Club, near Pittsburgh. He learned a bit about major championship play that week, and he's putting it to use at Southern Hills.

"To win majors, it's not about who hits it the closest, who makes the most putts," he said. "It's more about the fact, who is the most patient."

He admits he lost his patience at Oakmont. He could have easily gotten frustrated the first two days at Southern Hills, playing a two-ball with Paul Goydos while following threesomes. There's a lot of down time for two men in a five-hour round, and Ames and Goydos are fast players. Ames used the extra minutes between shots to banter with fans and hang out in the shade to save his strength. He also walked in the rough, under the trees, after nearly every shot to keep cool and slow the pace.

That added some walking because Ames, ranked 41st in driving accuracy, was in the crooked Southern Hills fairways for much of the day, hitting 10 of 14. Having won the PLAYERS gives Ames an idea of how important it is to keep the ball in play this week. It also gives him experience in how to close.

"All aspects of my game are working nicely," Ames said. "I feel confident over the golf ball, which is a nice feeling and I'm hitting the shapes that I want to hit when I'm standing up, which is nice, and I'm starting the ball on my lines every time that I see it, the line that I see. So I think nine out of 10, it's going to go in the hole. But the idea is to be calm with yourself and be confident with what you have at that time, play with what you've got."

Ames is showing he's got a lot. And he's hoping Gary Player is watching.

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