Justin Leonard is one of the Tour's best putters, so it's no surprise that he rode a hot flat stick to his first win of 2002. It is surprising, though, that the key to Leonard's win was his lone bad putt of the final round, a pulled 18-inch kick-in at 14 (above) that didn't touch the cup's edge. The jab, which resulted in a bogey and a two-shot swing that left him a shot behind Heath Slocum, was the only putt of the day for which Leonard didn't follow his pre-shot routine. It's understandable why Leonard lost his focus: He had expended tons of mental energy getting up and down an impressive nine times on the first 13 holes. Instead of collapsing after the miss, Leonard was galvanized. "Walking to the 15th tee," he said, "I decided to think about hitting the ball close to the hole and stop thinking about what not to do."
The way Leonard won proved my favorite golf axiom: Consistency isn't about puring 100% of your shots. It's about making a good score no matter how you hit the ball. On Sunday, Leonard hit only six greens in regulation, but he ground out 16 pars.
While Leonard remained patient, his challengers grew restless. At 13, Leonard was six up on his playing partner, Cameron Beckman, and both of them sliced drives into the woods. Leonard chipped out, wedged to the fringe and made bogey. Beckman tried to run a low hummer under trees and over a bunker to an elevated green. The shot flew into a railroad tie fronting the green and bounced back 30 yards. He made a triple bogey.
ROLLING TO VICTORY
One thing all the contenders did well on Sunday was putt from off the green. At 15 and 18, Leonard made critical two-putts from the fringe, while Slocum took his sole lead of the day at 14 after draining a 25-footer that traveled through six feet of fringe. From short grass, putting is much better than chipping because your worst putt is always better than your worst chip, a lesson I learned at the 1971 NCAAs. From the 12th tee at Tucson National, I looked down an adjacent fairway and was shocked to see Ben Crenshaw, 50 yards short of the green, using his putter. My doubts about the Texas wedge ended when his shot stopped 10 feet from the cup.