A man often reveals himself in his complaints about others, so listen to what Scott McCarron has to say about Sergio Garc�a, for whom McCarron has been nursing a grudge since Garc�a beat him at table tennis a year ago. ( Garc�a also tore the winner's check out of McCarron's hands at the season-opening Mercedes Championships in January.) "Sergio rips your throat out and smiles while he's doing it," he says.
Consider the noogie. The moment after McCarron had drained a 40-foot putt on the final green to dispatch Paul Azinger in the semifinals of February's Accenture Match Play Championship, the players exchanged the usual manly handshakes. Then Azinger solemnly pulled McCarron to him for a final word. As McCarron uttered an apologetic, "Sorry, man," Azinger grabbed him around the neck and ground his knuckles into McCarron's scalp. "It wasn't one of those let-off noogies," Azinger says. "It was real hard. He deserved it."
McCarron went on to lose the Match Play final to Kevin Sutherland one up, an outcome that also says a lot about McCarron, or at least a lot about the kind of season he has been having. Seemingly not a week goes by that he doesn't contend, and seemingly not a Sunday passes that he doesn't screw up.
Three weeks after the Match Play, at the Bay Hill Invitational, McCarron was eight under par through three rounds and had worked himself into contention, only two shots behind the leader, Tiger Woods. On the eve of the final round McCarron agreed to be interviewed on the Golf Channel. While being fitted for his microphone off-camera, he looked on as announcer Rich Lerner wondered on the air if anyone could catch Tiger. Did Scott McCarron, for example, have a chance? Analyst Mark Lye swiftly shot down that possibility, saying that McCarron had neither "the fuel nor the fire" to beat Woods.
McCarron, who was standing only 10 feet away, was thunderstruck. Lye was from McCarron's hometown, Napa, Calif., and someone McCarron looked up to. Lots of pros would have ripped off the mike and stormed back to the hotel, but McCarron stuck around, grimly answered questions and then, as he was saying goodbye, reached over, grabbed Lye around the neck and gave him one heck of a noogie.
The next day McCarron had a train wreck on the first four holes, going five over en route to an embarrassing 81. Numbers like that have raised his Sunday scoring average to 71.43, 1.68 strokes higher than his Thursday-Friday number.
Last weekend McCarron had a better Sunday, shooting a four-under 68 to finish fourth, six strokes behind winner Retief Goosen at the BellSouth Classic in Duluth, Ga., where McCarron has won two of his three Tour titles, in 1997 and in 2001. Last year the 36-hole wrap-up on Sunday was played in 40-mph winds and a windchill near freezing. When McCarron teed off that morning, swaddled in every piece of clothing he'd packed, he knew that "half the field was going to cash it in," he says. Because he's a skier, a mountain biker, a river rafter and an every-day jogger, McCarron knew that he could simply walk most of the guys to death, which is what he did, winning by three shots.
McCarron, 36, grew up around sports. His father, Barry, was a shortstop in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, making it is as far as Triple A. Scott's paternal grandfather, Al (a.k.a. Red), pitched for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. Barry introduced Scott to all the sports, and he excelled at golf almost immediately. "He won his first tournament at age four," Barry says. "We played in the Buchanan Fields father and son tournament in Concord, Calif. It was alternate shot, and we still had an 83. He was talking all the way around, blaming me for putting him in bad positions."
Scott went to UCLA on a golf scholarship and briefly enjoyed the surreal experience of teeing it up anytime he wished at places like Riviera, Los Angeles Country Club and Bel Air, where celebrities such as Bob Newhart and Don Rickles followed the Bruins in golf carts and bet on the players. Nevertheless, as McCarron embraced college life, golf became an afterthought. "We would pray for rain so we could play mud football instead of having to practice," says Brandt Jobe, a fellow Tour player and UCLA teammate. "We spent most of our time doing things that golfers shouldn't have been doing."
Before the start of his junior year, McCarron was playing so poorly that his scholarship was revoked by coach Eddie Merrins, so McCarron went out for the tennis team and made the junior varsity. He also became a rush chairman for his fraternity, Theta Theta Pi, and a bona fide hell-raiser. "A lot of guys talk," says Brad Bell, a teammate at UCLA, "but Scott does it. We walk out of the theater after seeing Top Gun and say, 'Wouldn't it be great to fly?' He goes out and learns to fly. We're singing along to oldies on the radio and say, 'Wouldn't it be great to play guitar?' He goes out and learns to play the guitar."