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Wrong guy keeps winning in majors

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Doug Ferguson
August 12, 2009
— If the PGA Championship follows suit, look for a scenario like this to unfold at Hazeltine.

John Daly, with only two rounds under par this year on the PGA Tour and coming off an 88 in the Buick Open, finds that “grip it and rip it” magic and opens with a 67. Everyone waits for him to collapse, but it doesn’t happen. There he is on the back nine, leading comfortably, on the verge of winning his third major, as many as Ernie Els.


Then comes a tee shot into the water on the 16th. A three-putt on the 17th. Two shots to get out of a bunker on the 18th.


He goes into a playoff and loses to Brian Gay.


If that sounds crazy, it is. If that sounds familiar, it should.


The script from this bizarre year of major championships has been a little science fiction, some fantasy, a chapter or two of mystery, never lacking in drama, always full of surprises.


In short, the wrong guy keeps winning.


“I hadn’t really thought about that, to be honest, but it’s really true,” British Open champion Stewart Cink said Tuesday. “It’s a good point that ’what could have been’ would have been a heck of a story to be written for the majors this year.”


Start with the Masters.


Kenny Perry thought his storybook career had ended at the Ryder Cup when he helped the Americans win in his home state of Kentucky. Then came Augusta National, where he had a two-shot lead with two holes to play and at 48, was on the verge of becoming the oldest man in a green jacket. Then came bogeys on the last two holes. A mud ball on the second playoff hole. A family in tears.


Angel Cabrera won the Masters, a deserving champion. Perry’s popularity soared, and he has been asked more about losing the Masters during the last four months than Cabrera has about winning (the language barrier plays a role, to be sure).


Act II came at Bethpage Black and the emotional return of Phil Mickelson, who only a month earlier learned that his wife, Amy, had breast cancer. Mickelson wasn’t even sure how much he could play the rest of the year, much less whether he had the desire.


She got encouraging reports from the doctor that allowed surgery to be delayed until after the U.S. Open.


Her husband said she left him a number of notes, texts, cards and one powerful message: “She would like to have a silver trophy in her hospital room, so I’m going to try to accommodate that.”


Lefty was the only player who shot par or better over five soggy days on Long Island. Then came the final-round charge, a 35-foot birdie on the tough 12th, followed by an approach that stopped 4 feet away for eagle on the 13th. He was tied for the lead, with momentum and half of New York on his side.


Could this really happen?


No.


He three-putted from the fringe for bogey at No. 15. He missed the green and missed his par on the 17th. He set a record by finishing second for the fifth time in the U.S. Open.


The trophy went home with Lucas Glover, who captured his first major by making one birdie in the final round, a clutch 8-iron into 6 feet on the 16th hole and two more pars.


No feeling was more empty, however, than Turnberry.


“The Watson story blows them all away,” Cink said.


Tom Watson, the oldest player in the British Open at 59, made a couple of birdies early in his round Thursday to get his name on the leaderboard, and then it stayed there—on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.


He took the lead after 54 holes, gave it back early in the final round, then roared ahead with a birdie on the 17th hole that led Peter Alliss to blurt out on the BBC, “By God, can it really happen?”


But after missing an 8-foot par putt on the final hole, then losing energy, hope and a four-hole playoff to Cink, perhaps Dan Jenkins summed it up best in a Twitter post from his 201st major.


“In the press room, we had a suspicion we weren’t good enough people to deserve Watson winning.”


What shouldn’t get lost in this remarkable year is that Cabrera, Glover and Cink were deserving of their major championships. And while many paying customers didn’t get the winner they wanted, they got their money’s worth.


Padraig Harrington watched them all and found every major to be fascinating in its own right.


“Yes, if Tom won; yes, if David Duval or Phil won the U.S. Open, maybe it would have stood out more going forward,” he said. “OK, people would have remembered more if Watson won. But it still does not take away from the quality of Stewart Cink’s win, or the quality of the event.


“It was exciting right up to the edge.”


Perhaps the fitting end to this year’s major should focus on “what” instead of “who.”


There has never been three majors in one year decided in a playoff. Wouldn’t that be something?



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