- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The Tournament Players Championship at this place called Sawgrass, an event that for the past three years had featured wind-tunnel golf, produced enough glamour last week to make its Sunday scoreboard a gift item in a Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog. This year's TPC also happened to produce the kind of game on the final day that takes an old head-to-head fighter like Lee Trevino to win.
Among the golfing oddities that history may eventually have to record is that every time Trevino and Jack Nicklaus go up against each other in the same pairing in a championship of any magnitude, the winner is Super Mex. Back in 1971 he defeated Nicklaus at Merion in a playoff for the U.S. Open title. Trevino delivered a second blow to Nicklaus in 1974 in the last round of the PGA at Tanglewood. And then came last Sunday at Sawgrass, which is near Jacksonville, when the two of them, plus none other than Gary Player, went out together in the final group of the day—surely the most glittering three-some of the past few seasons and the first time they had ever played together—and again it was Trevino who not only shot the low round in the group, but also hung in there to outlast an assortment of other challengers whose names read like those on the pages of an autograph book. Trevino fired a final-round two-under-par 70 for a ten-under-par total of 278, which broke the tournament record by five strokes and made him a one-stroke winner over Ben Crenshaw, who closed with a blazing 66. But the main thing Trevino did was whip the 73s scored by both Nicklaus and Player and fend off such luminaries as Tom Watson, Hubert Green and Severiano Ballesteros.
Trevino began the day as the leader by one stroke after rounds of 68, 72 and 68. But when you looked at who was following him, you had to suspect that with the Sawgrass course tamed by glorious weather, almost anything might happen. Green, who had a 66 on Saturday, was a stroke back. He had two strokes on Player, who was coming off five victories in his last seven tournaments in South Africa and Ivory Coast. He held a three-stroke edge over Nicklaus, who had lost a sudden-death playoff to Raymond Floyd at Doral a week earlier, and also over Ballesteros, who is merely the British Open champion. Looking further back in the field, you had to note that Trevino was only four shots ahead of Watson, the tour's leading money-winner the past three years, and Hale Irwin, merely the U.S. Open champion, who had been the co-leader of the TPC through the first and second rounds. Finally, Crenshaw was within striking distance, five strokes back, which is no distance at all when his putter is, as they say, "cooking."
Earlier, Trevino had said, "I told everybody not to wake Jack up at Doral. 'Let him sleep,' I said. But now they done woke him up, and I've got him again."
Come on, Lee. That's exactly what you like. While Trevino may have been thinking primarily about Nicklaus—and Player—because he had to keep looking at them from up close, he couldn't ever dismiss the other 8 x 10 glossies playing up there ahead of him on the course. Trevino never was out of the tournament lead on Sunday, but he did have to share it at different times over the front nine holes with Green, Player and Ballesteros, mostly because he bogeyed the second hole while Player birdied two of the first three and Ballesteros birdied two of the first four and Green birdied one of the first four.
But the most amazing interlude of the day came at a point in the early stages of the back nine when Trevino held the lead over six players who were all tied for second. They were Nicklaus, Player, Watson, Green, Crenshaw and Ballesteros. If the leader board at that moment wasn't suitable for framing, then tournament golf has no hope.
The shoot-out among Trevino, Nicklaus and Player remained close through 13 holes. At that juncture, Trevino and Nicklaus were both two under par for the day and Player was one under. On the 14th, Player fell away by driving out of bounds and winding up with a double bogey. Half an hour later Nicklaus began a string of three finishing bogeys. Trevino just kept playing beautiful golf. When he ran home a birdie putt at the 15th hole to put himself three under for the day—and go two strokes ahead of his nearest pursuer, who by now was Crenshaw—his caddie, Herman Mitchell, said that memorable thing all caddies say in such circumstances: "Let's take it on home, babe."
Crenshaw made a marvelous run with his flawless 66. But having made a few putts earlier to get where he was, he missed golden birdie chances at both the 16th and 18th holes. Afterward he said, "This must be a major championship, because I finished second again." In the end what he did was force Trevino to make a cozy par five on the last hole to ensure his victory. This Super Mex did with a joyous certainty that comes only from experience and a firm command of a very sound golf game.
Trevino became overcautious only once, at the 17th hole when he was clinging to a two-stroke lead over Crenshaw, who had already reached the scorer's tent. Trying to make sure that he didn't drive into the water on the left, he hit his tee shot so far to the right that he couldn't reach the green, and the result was a bogey.
Of his tee shot on the final hole, Trevino said, "I bailed out on my driver. I wasn't sure it was ready to forgive me right away, so I went with a one-iron off the 18th tee."