As they practiced on Riviera's cozy putting green after the first round of last week's Nissan Open, Brandel Chamblee sidled over to Tiger Woods. Chamblee told Woods that the week before, he had been approached by a man who claimed to specialize in the mental aspects of golf. "I teach the stuff that Tiger does," the man bragged. Chamblee replied that he already had a coach, "But if you can teach me to hit it 350 yards dead straight, like Tiger, you can have an hour with me right now."
When Woods heard the story, he didn't even chuckle. "You mean the guy teaches you how to cuss yourself out and tell yourself you suck?" he said. "I was thinking about quitting out there today and selling used cars."
Startled, Chamblee left Woods to his thoughts. "We've all had that feeling, but I was surprised that he ever had it," Chamblee said. "I figured Tiger must've shot a 73 or something. I looked in the paper the next morning, and he had shot 68! I was like, Wow, 68 and he's ready to quit."
That, it turned out, was one of the major themes in Los Angeles: Great expectations lead to great disappointments. Mighty Riviera was supposed to produce another great champion. Instead, it produced a great Cinderella story. Add Kirk Triplett, a 37-year-old journeyman who had never won in 10 years on Tour, to a storied list of winners that includes Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson. As champions go Triplett proved worthy. His four-under-par 67 on Sunday was the second-best round of the day ( Loren Roberts had a 66), and it ended with a memorable up-and-down for par at the 18th, where he made a dicey four-footer that had a decade's worth of self-doubt rolling with it. If Triplett had missed, he would've gone into overtime with Jesper Parnevik, the eccentric Swede with the flipped-up brim and, on Sunday, pink bell-bottom slacks. "He looked like the Pepto-Bismol man," said Triplett, whose idea of cutting-edge fashion is a bucket hat. "That was good because I was queasy, and when I looked over at him, I smoothed right out."
Parnevik had drained a stunning 30-footer for birdie on the final hole. "I guarantee you that's the longest putt ever made on the 18th green by a guy in pink pants," said Chamblee, who began the final round a stroke off the lead but shot a 11 and tied for 10th. "You've got to have a lot of game to play in pink pants."
The Nissan was supposed to be a shootout among the biggest names in the game because a star-studded cast was on hand to tune up for this week's Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship, just down the San Diego Freeway at La Costa Resort and Spa. Instead the tournament looked more like a tune-up for the Tucson Open, the B-flight alternative that will also be held this week, because the star-crossed leader board was filled with the likes of Greg Chalmers, Russ Cochran, Jeff and Robin Freeman, J.P. Hayes, Tom Scherrer and David Sutherland.
Where were all the stars? Pardon us while we check in the kikuyu grass. Woods finished 18th, seven shots behind Triplett, and struggled with his putter all week. Last Saturday on the 420-yard, par-4 13th, he four-putted from 12 feet for a double bogey. He had taken 6 on the same hole the day before for his first double in 241 holes, or since his victory at the World Stroke Play in November at Valderrama. Most players count the hours between their double bogeys. Woods checks a calendar.
If he had parred the 13th twice, he would've been ahead by a stroke going into Sunday, and we know what happens when he gets the lead. His frustration was evident after his 69 on Saturday. "Other than the four-putt and the three-putt, a whole bunch of missed putts, a couple of bad chips and a couple of bad drives, I did all right," he said.
Riviera's challenged greens, while improving, still suffer from budding poa annua and were as smooth as a frozen pizza. Parnevik would have won the tournament had he not four-putted the 4th green on Saturday, but that was still better than Nick Faldo. He five-putted the 11th on Thursday, making a 9, and missed the cut.
Other marquee players? David Duval, the second-ranked golfer in the world, returned refreshed from a week of snowboarding in Idaho, and was paired with Woods in the final round for the first time, but he laid an egg with a 74 to Woods's 72 and came in 31st. Tom Lehman and Justin Leonard didn't even make it to the weekend. As for the European contingent, Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie and Masters champ Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal took a Pasadena. Lee Westwood came down with the flu, barely made it to the clubhouse after the first round and withdrew. British Open winner Paul Lawrie missed the cut, as did Darren Clarke, who lost two shots because he wasn't familiar with Tour rules. The lift-clean-and-place rule was in effect on Thursday, when Clarke pushed his drive on the 2nd hole onto a parallel fairway. He then cleaned his ball, as is allowed in Europe but not in the U.S., where the ball can be touched only if it is in the correct fairway. Clarke didn't learn of his error until he was about to sign his scorecard, and the two-shot penalty turned his double-bogey 6 into an unhappy 8.