Some wondered if Norman was also motivated by revenge. One of Norman's most vocal critics during his unsuccessful attempt last November to help launch a proposed world tour was McCumber, who was widely quoted as saying, "Who does Greg think he is, God?" The two had not been paired since, and the theory that Norman may have had payback in mind gained some adherents when McCumber, who kept his comments about the altercation brief, said, "I could tell it wasn't going to be a pleasant day when we were on the 1st tee."
Norman denied any agenda and continued to reiterate a hard-line view of the episode every time he was asked.
"I was 100 percent correct," he said. "I would do it again if I saw a violation that blatant. No one is bigger than the game of golf."
But the player whose integrity was being questioned, McCumber, felt that Norman himself was acting bigger than the game by using a bully pulpit to defame him, particularly after McCumber had incurred no penalty under the very rules Norman holds sacred. "My life speaks for itself—and golf is only part of my life," said McCumber. "What Greg thought he saw is not what happened. I mean, people can be wrong."
In the final analysis, even if Norman was right about what he saw, and even though several players privately applauded him for standing up for what he believed, he handled the situation poorly. In a sport in which most penalties are called by the perpetrators, not by their playing partners, the accusation of cheating can taint, and even ruin, a career. When rules violators have been disciplined—most notably Bob Toski, who was exiled from the Senior tour in 1986 after an investigation determined that he was improperly marking his ball—it has been done discretely through official channels, not in a public forum by the best-known player on the planet. Tellingly, it was Norman's failure to go through channels before endorsing the world tour that was widely seen as his biggest mistake during that fiasco.
Fortunately, when it comes to his golf, Norman has been remarkably free of hubris. Despite all the emotion from the McCumber incident, he put together a controlled 68 on Friday. On Saturday four bogeys in a row put him 10 strokes behind leader Vijay Singh. But Norman found a groove, closed with a 31 and salvaged a 70. "My reaction to those four bogeys probably gave me a chance to win the tournament," he said. Norman capitalized on that chance in the playoff after Price, who admitted that his recent slump left him less than "100 percent comfortable under the gun," and Mayfair, who missed a seven-footer on the 72nd that would have won it, faltered.
After pulling his drive into trees on the first playoff hole, the 18th, Norman was left with 167 yards to the green. But rather than take it over the trees directly at the pin as he might have in younger days, Norman elected a safer draw around the trees, knowing that if it didn't come off, he-could still get up and down. "I wanted to make sure I had a play for a third shot," he said, "not just wipe myself out of the tournament trying to go for the glamour shot."
When the ball ended up in the right fringe, Norman had only one thought: 1990 at Doral, where he had come from 10 back with 14 holes to play on the strength of a closing 62, then chipped in for eagle on the first extra hole. When Sunday's chip followed the mental script perfectly and dropped in, putting him alone at the top for the first time, Norman had done unto others what others had done unto him. Because of that, and because of Norman's consistent play over the last three years, there were no sour grapes from Price, who badly wanted his first victory in a season of turmoil but left a final 20-footer for a tying birdie dishearteningly short.
"Greg plays himself into contention more than any player other than Jack Nicklaus," said Price. "He deserves every win he gets." Finally, after too many years, golf's biggest star is truly learning to convert.
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