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In golf, you're always one swing away from total humiliation. It's a stupid game, and those who play it know that there's only one thing that is certain to occur: Sooner or later (usually sooner) you will fail, and fail badly. Then, unless you are nicknamed after a ferocious animal, you will fail badly again. Ask Scott Hoch. Ask Jean Van de Velde. Ask anyone. Golf's a bitch ... and then you die. � The truth is, more tournaments are lost than won, even on the PGA Tour, as Greg Owen can now attest. He is golf's newest poster boy for humiliation, replacing Nathan Green, a little-known Australian who joined Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal and Tiger Woods in a playoff at the Buick Invitational in February. After depositing his second shot into the stands on the first extra hole, Green committed golf suicide by flubbing a flop shot and stubbing a chip before exiting stage right.
Owen, 34, is a native of Mansfield, England, but owns a place five minutes from Bay Hill in Windermere, Fla., and when he finally got his star turn on Tour, at last week's Bay Hill Invitational, the show had a surprise twist at the end. At first it appeared that Owen would finish like a champ. At 16 he played a beautiful bunker shot for a kick-in birdie to take a one-shot lead over Rod Pampling. (Pampling, 36, is a likable Australian whose greatest, albeit most dubious, distinction before winning the 2004 International came during the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie, where he became the only first-round leader in the championship's history to miss the cut.) The birdie came after Owen had erased every bit of Pampling's four-shot lead. He was aided greatly when Pampling, who had played almost flawlessly for 66 holes, inexplicably knocked his tee shot--with a fairway wood--out-of-bounds on the 13th hole and made a double-bogey 6.
Then came the surprise ending. Pampling missed the green at the par-3 17th and made bogey. Owen hit a bold tee shot that was tracking at the flag. Inches from perfection, his shot landed just short of the green and rolled back into the rough. Owen chipped to a little more than three feet but then missed the putt that would've given him a two-shot lead on the final tee box. Owen quickly walked over to his 26-inch comebacker and ... horrors! The ball banked around the back of the cup like Jeff Gordon in Turn 3 and shot out the other side. Forty inches. Three putts. Double bogey. Double ouch.
At 18 Owen sailed a nervous approach into the back-left bunker, splashed out to 12 feet and then--double horrors!--saw his par putt shockingly curve around the cup again and stay out. Owen covered his face with his hands in disbelief. Pampling had a short tap-in for par and the victory. Owen had given away the tournament with his double bogey--bogey finish, and he knew it. He put his putter across his shoulder blades, tilted his head back and looked into a darkening sky as he waited for Pampling to putt out and make it official.
"I don't know what to say," Pampling said to Owen in the scoring trailer as they signed their cards, "but I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault," Owen replied. "I did it."
Words also failed when tournament host Arnold Palmer slipped the traditional winner's blue blazer on Pampling during a ceremony at the 18th green. "He looked at me and went, 'Wow,'" Pampling said. "That was exactly what I said back to him."
Chad Campbell was also there behind the 18th green waiting to congratulate Pampling. Campbell, like Pampling, lives in the Dallas area. They often practice together and have similar games--quick swings, low trajectories and streaky spells with the putter. Campbell's wife, Amy, drifted around the green snapping photos of the trophy presentation with her digital camera. "He's good," Campbell said of Pampling. "He's really good. It's hard to win out here. Two wins in two years isn't half bad."
Golf is cruel. So are its rituals on Tour. After a quick interview with the Golf Channel behind the scoring tent, Owen stopped to field a few questions from other TV reporters--"Ninety seconds," a PGA Tour rep barked at the mosh pit of cameras and microphones, indicating how long the session would last.
"It's heartbreaking at this moment," Owen bravely said for the cameras. "It was a lapse of concentration, I guess."