The force is almost always around at the end of golf tournaments, settling in like an invisible energy field and invading the hearts and minds of the leaders precisely at crunch time. The problem is, it would take Obi-Wan Kenobi to know in advance which way the Force is going to go. When it's with the players, birdies fly and sudden-death playoffs always seem to end with 30-foot putts. But when it's against them, the smell of failure pervades, the holes seem to shrink, and late four-putts and triple bogeys ensue. It can get very ugly.
The dark side had its way big time last Sunday at the Motorola Western Open, descending on the rugged Cog Hill Number 4 course in Lemont, Ill., just as the leaders turned for home. Very quickly the killer public course became a burial ground for the fastest guns in the tournament. Things got so ugly, in fact, that the eventual winner, Billy Mayfair, decided the wisest thing he could do was avert his eyes.
Unlike the boatload of other players who had a chance to win the oldest nonmajor on the PGA Tour, Mayfair alone refused to study the scoreboard as it was recording the goriest finish of the year. The 28-year-old Phoenix native was most tempted as he was walking down the 72nd hole in a five-way tie for the lead, but he instead shifted his attention to the flagstick and stiffed a seven-iron from 178 yards. Again the scoreboard beckoned him to take a look, but Mayfair stared only at the hole, knocking home the five-footer that gave him a closing 67, a total of nine-under-par 279 and a one-stroke victory over Jeff Maggert, Justin Leonard, Scott Simpson and Jay Haas.
"I don't like to look at the scoreboard," said Mayfair, whose second career victory—the other was the '93 Greater Milwaukee Open—earned him $360,000. "I just figure that if I take care of my own business, I'm going to do the best I can."
Indeed, Mayfair was so successful in his approach that he may have single-handedly redeemed Ernie Els and Jesper Parnevik, both of whom were chastised last year for their costly ignorance of where they stood on the 72nd hole of the U.S. and British Opens, respectively.
"I'm glad I wasn't watching the board," said Mayfair, when told after the round of all the land mines others had stepped on. "It wasn't pretty, huh?"
No, it wasn't. Steve Lowery, John Huston, Brett Ogle and Bob Estes, who all held the lead for a time on Sunday, didn't exactly turn into pillars of salt after looking at the scoreboard, but they did start hitting shots as if they had several tablespoons of the stuff stuck in their throats.
Lowery started the allergic reaction to the top spot when, upon taking the lead by a stroke at nine under par with nine holes to go, he promptly played the next five holes in three over par. He finished tied for sixth, two shots behind Mayfair.
Huston, putting together a hot round that saw him birdie eight of the first 15 holes, got to 10 under par and a stroke ahead with three to play. Three pars would have locked up a victory, but instead Huston four-putted the 16th hole from 25 feet for a double bogey. It was probably the worst putting disaster by a contender on the final day of a tournament since Huston putted off the green and into a water hazard while leading the Mercedes Championship in January. Reeling, Huston also bogeyed 18 to finish tied with Lowery.
Ogle was next to succumb to the Force. After making birdies on the 11th and 12th to also get to 10 under, Ogle gave in to temptation and stole a peek at the scoreboard. "I don't like to watch the leader board, but I can't help it," the 30-year-old Australian said after ending the third round tied for the lead with Lowery. "My eyes look forward, but then they sort of glance. I'm a glancing person."