Nick Dougherty finally gets a reprieve from the golf gods

Every professional golfer, at some point or another, has gone through a major slump in their career. You end up missing a couple cuts, shooting some rounds in the mid-70s but sooner or later, with a little bit of grinding on the range, things start to click and you get things back on track.

If only Nick Dougherty were so lucky. The Englishman is a three-time winner on the European Tour, but he's been mired in the kind of slump that would normally drive most golfers to the edge of quitting the sport altogether. After failing to make the cut last November at an event, Dougherty has gone an astounding 21 tournaments without seeing the weekend.

Let that sink in for a second. Plenty of good players have won tournaments and suddenly fallen off the face of the earth, but I'm not sure anybody in recent memory has gone through such a difficult stretch in their career.

For the season, Dougherty had managed to hit only 40 percent of his fairways, a statistic that shows you just how important it is to get the ball in the fairway off the tee. And it seems when that part of his game went south, the rest, including his confidence, followed.

After firing a second round 69 at Gleneagles just last week, Doughtery noted that he started to see signs of his game coming around. Whatever positives he took from that round certainly came out in his play on Thursday at the Omega European Masters, as he fired a bogey-free 8-under 63 to take a two-shot lead over, among others, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer.

If you need a guy to root for this week, Doughtery is certainly high on the list. He's been through a lot with his game recently, and if anybody is due for a good week of golf it's him. Most players would be looking to go for the tournament win with a two-shot lead, but after missing the cut for 21 straight times, I'm pretty sure Doughtery would take a chance to play the weekend as a huge step in the right direction.

Golf can be a maddening game at times, and for the moment, a guy with 21 consecutive missed cuts is leading a European Tour event after the first round. There's still plenty of golf left, but just having Doughtery in contention this week is a pretty incredible story.

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