At a special sort of golf tournament in Ohio last week, most people spent a good deal of time wishing Hubert Green would do something to make it interesting, and what he wound up doing was to turn the event into the World Series of Optometry. This was not what Hubert Green had in mind and it probably wasn't what Gil Morgan expected when he arrived in Akron. But the climax of the World Series of Golf belonged almost solely to Hubert, who capped a relatively dull few days by holing a 10-foot birdie putt on the last regulation green for $55,000, the difference between first and second money, and then missing a three-foot putt for the same amount of money in the first extra hole of sudden death to allow Morgan, a non-practicing optometrist, to win a championship that either is or isn't the World Series of anything.
There is supposed to be a lot of suspense and drama in this tournament. The format brings together the best of the best—a select group of golfers who have won either enough tournaments or the most prestigious ones—and they must then cope with the Firestone Country Club's demanding South Course, with the year's biggest purse, $300,000, as a reward. You would think that the $100,000 awaiting the victor would lead to a good deal of knee-buckling excitement.
For a variety of reasons, it was missing this year. Even in Sunday's last round, when Tom Watson began making a move and Morgan was hanging in there by dropping all of his putts for par and Green was gradually accumulating the bogeys that would erode his lead, there was a so-what aura about it all.
This mood was sustained at the end when Green let his three-footer for a par on the 14th green—the first sudden-death hole—slide outside the right edge of the cup and then routinely pointed his finger in the air, the gesture of a golfer who has routinely holed out. This was followed by Morgan calmly rolling in a one-footer for a winning par 4 and routinely pointing his finger upward. He didn't even take off his white visor. Two men had just played one hole of golf for almost as much money as a United States senator makes, and they looked like a couple of guys going another hole to see who buys the drinks.
Morgan got to the title the slow, hard way. After two rounds, he was six strokes behind Green, who was leading by two after shooting a 70 and a 67. There were some other people between them, and Morgan wasn't taken very seriously by Green or anyone else. On Saturday, Morgan shot a 67 of his own while Green was turning in a one-over 71, but while it drew him to within two strokes of Green, even Morgan realized that he was up against one of the game's toughest front-runners.
Sunday's 18 began with Green making three straight birdies and Morgan eagling the 2nd hole. Still, after seven holes Green had a four-stroke lead, and most of the drama centered around Watson and whether he would finish strong enough to break Johnny Miller's 1974 earnings record of $353,021. For a while, with Green starting his bogey habit, it looked as if Watson might finish strong enough to win the tournament itself. But Watson quickly turned a 65 into a 67 with consecutive iron shots into bunkers, and he had to settle for third place. Nevertheless, it gave him $19,000 and upped his earnings for the year to $362,000, or $8,979 more than Miller banked during his one golden year. Watson also nailed down the Vardon Trophy for the tour's lowest stroke average with his five tour victories and an assortment of other good finishes.
With that settled, what remained of Sunday afternoon was left to Morgan and Green. Morgan parred the last six holes for his closing 68 and his total of 278. Green found a different way to match the number. Hubert bogeyed the 16th to make it look as if he would hand the tournament to Morgan without a playoff. But he closed with the good birdie putt on 18 to tie and prolong things.
Neither drove exquisitely from the 14th tee, one going left and the other right. And neither hit very prettily onto the green, one being far away from the pin and safe and the other—Green—over and slightly onto the fringe.
The difference was that Green did not get his first putt close enough to force another extra hole. It was just as well. The tournament itself missed by more than three feet.
Other topics had dominated conversation in Akron during the week: the Benjamin High School football team, for instance, and its traditional Friday night game against Glades Day down in Belle Glade, Fla. This was the contest that at one point was going to prevent Jack Nicklaus from competing in the World Series of Golf. His oldest son, Jackie, is a tight end and defensive end for Benjamin, and his second oldest, Steve, is a split end. Jack decided to play in the tournament only when it dawned on him that his private jet could get him from Akron to Belle Glade in time for the opening kickoff, after the second round of play on Friday, and return him to Firestone in time for Saturday's tee-off.