Fisher giving English fans someone to believe in

Watch out for the Fisher King.

Ross Fisher could be the man to warm British hearts 10 years after the last Brit, Paul Lawrie, won the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie.

Fisher could give even greater joy to English golf fans. It’s been 17 years since the last English win. That was back in 1992 at Muirfield, when Nick Faldo, now Sir Nick Faldo, won the last of his three Opens.

Fisher has come a long way in his short career. It’s not too long ago that the native of Kingston, England, was working on the driving range at Wentworth Golf Club. Fisher was fortunate to learn his golf at Wentworth after coming through the Bernard Gallacher Foundation.

His parents couldn’t afford to pay for him to play at Wentworth, but the Gallacher Foundation gives fee membership and funds to play amateur golf to talented but less affluent children. In return, foundation kids do odd jobs around the club.

Fisher was the skinny kid passing out range balls to the stars playing in the European Tour’s flagship BMW PGA Championship and the World Match Play Championship. With his privileged range pass, he got to watch the stars up close and personal. Now he’s on the verge of doing what most of those guys on the range have failed to achieve.

Fisher has taken huge steps since turning professional four years ago. He came flying out of the gate with a fourth-place finish in the 2006 Volvo China Open after graduating to the European Tour off the European Challenge Tour in 2005.

He finished 66th on the money list in 2006. In 2007, he won the KLM Open in Holland. Last year, he ran away with the European Open, leaving Sergio Garcia in his wake.

There’s a big difference between Fisher the amateur and Fisher the professional: The Englishman now has a much better short game than he did as an amateur.

He was always long, probably the longest player in the amateur ranks. Now he has the short game to go with it.

Weak from 100 yards and in when he was an amateur, Fisher has worked hard with former European Tour pro turned short-game guru Mark Roe on his chipping and pitching game.

Fisher was a 40-1 shot with British bookmakers heading into this championship. Why his odds are so high is unclear. He finished fifth in last month’s U.S. Open.

The 28-year-old would have won the U.S. Open had his putter been working. Fisher just couldn’t get to grips with Bethpage’s putting surfaces.

He doesn’t have to worry as much about putting Turnberry’s greens. Fisher is used to putting on links courses.

It’s only been four years since Fisher was playing regularly on courses like Turnberry. In fact, it’s not that long ago that Fisher tamed Royal Lytham. He toured that Open Championship course in 10-under in the 2004 Lytham Trophy. He didn’t win on that occasion. One-time Augusta State player James Heath had the tournament of his life with an 18-under total.

Had Heath not been in the field, then Fisher would have waxed the competition.

“A lot of amateur golf was played on links courses,” Fisher said. “I was fortunate to have a decent amateur career, so I feel prepared to play links golf. Hopefully that will hold me in good stead.”

Not only does Fisher feel comfortable on the Turnberry links, he feels right at home on the last three holes. He is 7-under for the three rounds over the last three holes. He’s birdied the 16th and 17th holes all three days. On Thursday, he birdied the 18th, as well.

“Sixteen I’ve birdied every day, so it’s obviously nice,” Fisher said. “Seventeen is probably one of the easier holes out there. It’s one that if you don’t make a birdie, you feel as if you’ve slipped a shot because pretty much everyone can get up in two.

“Those last three holes have done very nicely for me, and hopefully I can get some nice work done out there tomorrow.”

Besides 59-year-old Tom Watson, countryman Lee Westwood and the 26 players within six shots of the lead, the main thing standing between Fisher and the old claret jug is an unborn child.

Wife Jo was supposed to have delivered their first child July 14. The dad-to-be still insists that if he gets the call saying Jo has gone into labor, then he’s out of here, even if he’s leading the tournament.

“Like I’ve said all along, if Jo goes into labor, I’ll be supporting her 100 percent. I won’t be here. I’ll be with her, because it’s something I definitely don’t want to miss.

“Hopefully I can hang on for one more day, and hopefully she can. Who knows? To win and then get back and see the birth of our first child would obviously be a dream come true.”

It’s a dream Fisher had back when he was picking up range balls at Wentworth.

Back then, it was only a wishful teenage fantasy. Now the dream can come true.