Actually, Elkington is a man of such grace and style, he never looks like he's ripping anything. Everything about him makes mothers and tailors sigh. A wrinkle has never been within a par 5 of his shirts. His pants contain 1% mink. He is a meticulous gardener and artist. I le swings with a seamless ease, not an extra ounce of torque here or grimace there, a lullaby in spikes. "You sec guys with beautiful technique," says Brad Faxon, who finished fourth. "And you see guys with beautiful tempo. It's not often you see both."
But if Elkington's swing was a soft summer breeze, his putting stroke had always been a backup in a sewage treatment system. Even in 1995, when he won his only major (the PGA) and finished fifth on the money list, Elkington ranked only 95th on the Tour in putting. That has all changed this year. He took the fewest putts three weeks ago to win at Doral (101) and the fewest putts again at the Players (105). He is putting like a man who would very much like to add green to his sport jacket collection. "If Elk keeps putting like this," says Faxon, "he'll be the beast for Augusta."
But even Elkington has been a little jumpy under that velvet exterior. He slept fitfully Saturday night. He was up at six for a 2:15 tee time, putted for three hours in his hotel room, watched a Sylvester Stallone movie (Daylight) and finally, mercifully, made his way to the range, where he never missed a shot. The tension was relieved. "Oooooh, Steve!" yelled a woman who was watching him warm up. "You're gonna win! Oh, baby!"
To which Elkington replied, "Shut up!" (Ever since Norman's collapse, players have been careful not to tick off the golf gods.)
But this one was over early. Elkington blew his birdie putt on the 1st hole five feet by and drilled the throat-blocker coming back for par. He saved par on the 2nd from off the green. He dunked a six-foot trembler on 3 for par. I le drained a full-fledged 15-foot rosary on 4 for par, and when Hoch double-bogeyed there, the lead was four. Thus tested, Elkington enjoyed a happy walk for the rest of the day. Talk about daylight. Elkington was so far ahead that the only danger was that he'd play the final three watery holes in a dead sprint. "He started to rush," said Gypsy Joe Grillo, his longtime caddie. "So I started lagging behind, making him wait for me." At most clubs that'll get you fired. On Sunday it got Gypsy a nice slice of Elkington's $630,000 check.
Which was considerably more than Davis Love III earned for his starring role in "Men Who Forget the Rules, and the Fates That Befall Them." Tied for sixth as he lined up a four-foot birdie putt at the 17th hole on Sunday, Love inadvertently struck his ball while taking a practice stroke. Rather than replacing the ball and assessing himself a one-stroke penalty, Love counted the mishit and proceeded to two-putt. The penalty for failing to return a ball to its original position is two shots, and when Love signed for a four instead of a five, he was disqualified. It was a $105,437 mistake.
Elkington was having no such problems, and when he chipped in from behind the 18th green for one last birdie, he had an appetizer-to-mints win and four rounds in the 60s: 66-69-68-69 for a 16-under 272. His margin over second-place Spoke, er, Hoch, was seven, the largest blowout in the tournament's 24 years. Said Hoch, perhaps quoting Rommel, "Only one guy beat me."
Said a nearly giddy Elkington. "I blew away really the best field we've ever had, and I didn't know if I was capable of that. I can't explain what got into me this week."
Had to be a full moon.