Tradition is about the same old thing, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, or until Gordie Howe makes a comeback, whichever comes first. That's why the ninth edition of the Tradition, the first of the Senior tour's so-called major championships, was so odd. It was totally untraditional. How else can you describe an event for which the shot of the week, the defining moment that will live on in the ESPN archives, was an errant drive that landed in somebody's swimming pool—and was still in play? Like Jose Canseco laying down a bunt, everything about last week's Tradition seemed to go against tradition.
Traditionally, Gil Morgan doesn't win majors, but he did last week, although whether this tournament should count as such is open to debate. Other than the Tradition's trophy, which looks suspiciously like the claret jug they give to the winner of the British Open—have you checked your trophy case lately, Tom Lehman?—this laid-back event is a major the way Jean-Claude Van Damme is an actor. Therefore, put an asterisk next to Morgan's name and add him to the list of Best Players Who Have Never Won a Real Major.
A nonpracticing optometrist from Wewoka, Okla., with an unremarkable swing that's remarkably consistent, Morgan won seven times on the PGA Tour. He was still competitive when he turned 50 last September and joined the geezers. His best chance at winning one of the big ones came in 1992 at Pebble Beach, where he became the first player to go 10 under par in a U.S. Open. He got it to 12 under in the third round before backing up, then crashed in the windswept final round and finished 13th. "That's probably the most disappointing thing about my career," says Morgan. "I had a good enough game to win major championships and played at a high enough level several times, but didn't get over the hump. I had opportunities to win almost all the majors, and I let them get away. There's not much I can do about that now." Sunday's win, Morgan's second on the Senior tour, felt good and will look terrific in the trophy case, but it's no U.S. Open.
Traditionally, Morgan, who's a terrific ball striker but an average putter, wins only on difficult courses where par is a good score, not at places where you have to go low. But he blistered the Cochise course at Desert Mountain, in Scottsdale, Ariz. He followed a pair of 66s with two 67s, finished at 22 under and won by six strokes over Isao Aoki. Morgan effectively won the tournament on a windy Saturday, opening a live-shot lead. No one got closer than four on Sunday, and Morgan finished stylishly, holing a 12-foot putt for eagle at the 18th.
Traditionally, Scottsdale has lovely weather during the tournament. Last week the Donner party would have fit right in. There were snow flurries on Wednesday, and temperatures were stuck in the low 40s on Thursday when the tournament began. Later that day it rained. The weather during the second round was equally raw and miserable. By Saturday it had warmed up some and was drier, but the wind kicked in. Morgan used hand warmers between shots and for the first two rounds sported a red ski hat with white trim. "My wife saw me on TV," he said. "She kept saying, 'Ho, ho, ho.' I didn't know what she meant."
Traditionally, swimming pools are not considered part of the golf course—not even on Jack Nicklaus's newfangled designs—but they're in play at Desert Mountain. Someone should have alerted Terry Dill to that fact. If he had been using a floater on the par-5 15th hole on Saturday, he could've played his second shot where it bobbed.
One of the longer hitters on the Senior tour, Dill pulled his tee shot way left at the 548-yard 15th, into a homeowner's pool. Since the Cochise course doesn't have boundary markers, the houses surrounding the layout are not out of bounds, and according to the Rules of Golf, a pool is a man-made obstruction.
The ruling was a huge break for Dill, who was fighting for second place at the time. The homeowner invited him around to the front door, led him through the living room and out back to the pool—after checking to make sure Dill wasn't wearing metal spikes. "Another advantage of Soft-spikes," Dill joked. Given a free drop, he hit his second shot back to the fairway and put his third on the green. "When we got on the green, John Jacobs told me, 'I know I'm trying to beat you, but I want you to make this putt because it would be the greatest birdie I've ever seen,' " said Dill, who missed but got his par. (On Sunday, Dill's ball was still in the pool, lodged against the drain.)
Traditionally, Nicklaus dominates this tournament. He won here in 1990 and '91 as well as in '95 and '96. Last weekend Nicklaus got so little out of his game that despite an opening 67, he finished 25th. Nicklaus made six birdies in a row in the first round but on Friday didn't make one. In his first seven holes on Saturday, he took two unplayable lies and had a three-putt, and he plummeted out of contention with a 75. "I'm just not very good in the cold," he said. "I can't get my swing long enough. I had one run the first day. Outside of that, I haven't been here this week."
Traditionally, by the end of this event Nicklaus has his game honed to a fine edge for the Masters. Let's face the facts: Nicklaus is 57 and Augusta National is a young man's course. Nicklaus, who was the oldest Masters champion when he won in 1986, has come to grips with that. "I don't really worry about it too much anymore, to be very honest," he says. "I'd love to get it together for Augusta, but Augusta isn't my priority anymore. I want to play well, but realistically I don't think I'm a contender. I don't want to go out and embarrass myself. I'm trying' to get myself ready to play well in the PGA Seniors [the week after the Masters at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.]. That's where I am now."