We can't quite pin down what happens to the Americans. Paul Azinger made his return to defend his title, coming off chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer, but he wasn't ready, and his 75-74-149 didn't make the cut. "I envisioned shooting 64 and being the headline in papers all over the world," he said. "It was harder than I thought." Fred Couples shot 69 the first day but then either lost interest or rented a house with cable. Payne Stewart finally made his first cut in a major this year, but only by the loose thread of his knickers. Mickelson and John Cook needed big Sundays and instead shot even par to finish third and fourth, respectively. "Basically," said Pavin, "Nick beat the crud out of us."
True, Price did have to play Sunday, but once you saw him hitting it on the practice range beforehand, you knew it was all over but the crud-spilling. At least that's what Squeeky figured. "When I saw the way he was hitting it, I knew we were going to make some birdies," he said. Squeeky knows when his boss is about to win. He should. Since he hooked up with Price in 1991, we figure he has made upward of $600,000, which is a lot of grease, even for a guy named Squeeky.
When Greg Norman birdied the first two holes Sunday to get within three shots, Price answered with birdies at number 3 and number 4, which turned out to be very good Shark repellent. After that, nobody sniffed Price from closer than four shots, and when Price made the only birdie of the day at the 215-yard 8th hole, Tulsa resident Oral Roberts himself couldn't have bailed the Americans out. Price was so untrippable and unsinkable that as he came to the 17th green, some history-minded scorer had him beating Pavin, Mickelson, Norman and Hogan.
Price's final-round 67 gave him 269, the lowest score in any U.S. major ever, and it made him the No. 1 player in the world, slipping past the Shark himself, which, if we know Shark, isn't going to make him too happy, Price being his best scuba buddy or not. Personally, we would check the tanks closely, Nick.
As for the future, the Projections department thinks Price is about as unstoppable as a big sneeze. We overheard David Leadbetter, Price's coach, telling him, "All these people want to know how long you've been in a zone. I have news for them. You haven't even hit your zone." He might be right. Price is longer than Tolstoy (he averaged more than 300 yards on the measured driving holes over the weekend), accurate (he was fifth in greens hit), and he and his new aluminum putter almost border on the occult (he had fewer than 30 putts in every round). All this, and he's decent, too. When he won, he told the crowd, "I'm sorry it was so boring for all of you today."
Our Insurance guys say there's always the possibility of Price's breaking a femur or something. He water-skis on a lake crawling with alligators near Orlando, his home base in the U.S., and he's a bit of a daredevil. He skis barefoot, and he does tricks on a kneeboard, like 360s. But he only does it when he knows and trusts the boat driver, and there are only two he trusts: his wife, Sue, and the man he just bumped back into mere mortality—Norman.
We'll give Shark a call.