Katayama winning over PGA fans

DULUTH, Ga. -- A young man strolled alongside the 18th fairway at Atlanta Athletic Club, admonishing everyone he passed, "Collars up for Shingo."

Shingo Katayama, barely known around these parts at the beginning of the week, has become a definite fan favorite at the PGA Championship.

Most are drawn to the Japanese golfer's effusive personality and novel fashion sense, and it doesn't hurt that Katayama was only four shots off the lead going to the final round.

"I want more and more American fans to call out, 'Shingo! Shingo!' " he said Saturday.

Katayama has been wearing a white cowboy hat for about a year, though John Wayne never tied up his sides with a string. The sideburns are long and pointy. The collar is flipped up, ostensibly to ward off the sweltering Georgia sun but unlike anyone else on the course.

It's a fusion of Elvis and Far East cool, enough to knock Ichiro off the front pages back home for at least a day or two.

"I'm trying to be a comedian in Japan," Katayama said through his interpreter, breaking out in his ever-present smile.

He's playing some pretty good golf, too.

Katayama, who began the third round tied for the lead with David Toms, was still in contention after a 1-under 69 -- his third straight round in the red numbers.

Toms had a hole-in-one and grabbed the lead solo with a 14-under 196, but Katayama was tied for third with Steve Lowery at 200.

"I love it when all my supporters are saying, 'Shingo! Shingo!"' he said. "It's been my dream to play over here since I was small. It's really great to be here."

Katayama speaks just a smidgen of English but has mastered the universal techniques for whipping up a crowd -- a toothy grin, a fist pump, a wave of the arms.

He doesn't hold anything back, revealing every emotion to the gallery in striking contrast to the stoic reputation of Japanese athletes.

Katayama was at his best on the 18th hole, when his second shot skipped off the water and miraculously plopped onto the fringe of the green.

Katayama looked on in disbelief as the ball emerged from its watery grave. When convinced that his ball had made it to dry land, he lifted his palms upward, urging the crowd to "raise the roof."

As Katayama walked up to his ball, clinging to the grass, he teetered at the edge of a stone wall as if he was about to fall in.

He didn't, of course, chipping up near the flag and saving par -- which seemed appropriate on a day when Katayama needed a few golf tricks to go along with his winning personality.

A 28-year-old member of the Japanese tour, Katayama reached only eight greens in regulation, the lowest total among the leaders. He was in the sand four times. But he kept getting out of trouble, requiring 24 putts to pull off a three-birdie, two-bogey round.

"He played to the crowd and had fun out there," said Toms, who tied with Katayama for the 36-hole lead and played with him Saturday in the final group. "Obviously, we didn't talk too much."

It took a hole-in-one to overcome the language barrier. Toms pulled off his amazing shot at the 15th hole, which appeared to please Katayama as much as the man who signed "1" on his scorecard.

He smiled and high-fived with Toms, not the least bit concerned that the shot put a serious dent in his own chances of winning.

"I was really amazed by David's ace," Katayama said. "I would like to play like him."

Katayama knocked his own shot into a bunker behind the green and took bogey -- a critical three-stroke swing on one hole. Obviously, he wasn't too bothered.

"Going up the 16th fairway, he asked me what I hit on my shot," Toms said. "He said it was straight all the way. That was about the only time we talked."

Katayama kept having fun, though, slapping hands with his caddie at No. 17 when the tee shot barely cleared the pond -- a precursor to an even more amazing shot at the final hole.

"I was lucky," Katayama said, "very, very lucky."

As he stepped into the interview area, Katayama hammed it up, blowing a kiss toward his interpreter.

"It was a great day," he said. "I had a lot of fun. The other players were all saying, 'Shingo, good luck.' I really enjoyed it."

So did everyone else.