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All the Way Back
Robinson Holloway
July 08, 1996
D.A. Weibring, over the Bell's palsy that had threatened his career, won big in Hartford
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July 08, 1996

All The Way Back

D.A. Weibring, over the Bell's palsy that had threatened his career, won big in Hartford

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In this most recent freakish occurrence in the ongoing saga of the Shark, Norman was tied for fourth—five off the lead with 36 to play—when he disqualified himself for using an illegal ball. As far as the PGA Tour was concerned, the issue was simple: The ball Norman used in the first two rounds had xs-9 stamped on it, and that model is not listed in the USGA's book of conforming golf balls, a copy of which is always available for player reference at the 1st tee. The penalty for using a ball not among the more than 1,500 listed in the book is disqualification, even if the ball is manufactured to USGA standards.

Norman says that he was asked by Maxfli to test three balls, stamped XS-7, XS-8 and XS-9, all of which had been USGA-approved with different stampings, according to Maxfli. When Norman told Maxfli technicians that he preferred the XS-9, a supply for the tournament was sent to him, with his Shark logo and the unsanctioned xs-9 printed on them.

"It was just an oversight on the part of the research and development department of Maxfli," Norman says, "which didn't understand that the stamping on the ball has to be the identical stamping approved by the USGA." Maxfli executives did not discover that Norman had been sent the unsanctioned ball until Friday, when it was too late.

The incident continued a frustrating run of events for Norman that began with his dramatic crash in the Masters. The unplanned "free" weekend was his fourth of the season, with the preceding three missed cuts being as many as he has had in any one year. That has caused him to reorder his goals. It used to be that Norman had little interest in the money title. He coveted the Vardon Trophy for low scoring average. This year the Vardon is out of reach because he is unlikely to play enough rounds to qualify, and his 69.93 average puts him in 13th place behind leader Fred Couples (69.36). Now money is a priority. Had he won in Hartford—and last Saturday after he got home he said, "The fact is I could easily have won this golf tournament"—Norman would have moved to third on the money list. Instead he's sixth. Norman would have had to shoot a pair of 66s to beat Weibring.

What is certain is that more than a few people were disappointed when the tournament lost its biggest star. After Norman the next best player in the field according to the Sony World Ranking was Brad Faxon, at No. 24. John Daly, second in popularity to Norman but 57th in the ranking, ended up 13 strokes behind Weibring. So on Sunday the fans turned to Kite, the 1997 Ryder Cup captain who hasn't won since the 1993 L.A. Open, or even had a top-10 finish since the 1995 Northern Telecom Open.

Kite was thrilled to be in the spotlight and thrilled with his play. "This could have easily been a win instead of a second because I have had tournaments where I have done the same things I did today and produced a win," he said.

Kite has been easing up on his grueling practice sessions recently, though he admits it might take a trained eye to spot the difference. The key to his performance last week was improved putting. Kite came to River Highlands near the bottom of the putting stats, ranking 134th on Tour. At Hartford he was the 22nd-best in the field on the greens.

If he continues to putt well, Kite could break out of his slump and make good on his goal of being the first playing captain of a U.S. Ryder Cup team since Arnold Palmer in 1963. "I performed really well the last couple of days," he said on Sunday. "I was pleased I was able to hit good shots when I needed to, and believe me, when you haven't been there for as long as I have, that can be difficult to do. The putts didn't all go in, but I hit them all the way I wanted to."

Still, he never really threatened Weibring, who began the final round with a three-stroke lead and seemed to get stronger as the day wore on. Weibring bogeyed the 1st hole, ran off eight consecutive pars, then sealed his fifth career win by birdieing four holes on the back, the most challenging nine at River Highlands, to shoot 67. "That's what you live for," he said afterward, blinking hard. "I tend to get a bit emotional."

That's better than being without feeling.

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