And when you turned things sideways a little, you could see it really was Price whose hand looked steadiest. Langer was picking up the club too early on his backswing. Norman was trying to get used to putting the ball a little farther back in his stance. And Stewart was taking putting tips from 1) Price, whom he saw being interviewed on TV about his stance; 2) Azinger, who offered advice; and 3) his wife, Tracey, who informed him that he was "decelerating" on his stroke. All in all it seemed less like The Players Championship than it did the Walla Walla Member-Guest.
But Price was fixed. On winning. O.K., this wasn't a major, but it was at least a lip-out major. He wanted it—and what he didn't want to hear was "Nice try, Nick." He was so obsessed with winning that after Thursday's opening round, when someone asked him if he knew the size of the first-place check, he answered, "Uh, $340,000?" Try $450,000.
Then Sunday dawned, and an amazing thing happened. Price really did become bulletproof. He could not be caught. He could not be headed. He was not even threatened. He turned what should have been the shoot-out of the year into his own private layup drill at the Deane Dome. He birdied the 2nd hole and never looked back. On the 360-yard, par-4 4th hole he made a birdie that couldn't be made—hitting a sand-wedge second shot from an impossible lie at the bottom of a steep grass bunker to within two feet of the pin. "Probably the greatest shot of my life," Price said.
After that, he made three more birdies and only one bogey—he had only one of those a day all week—and some of the world's best players folded up behind him like tortillas. Langer shot 71. O'Meara shot 73. Green, 72. Azinger, 73. Pavin, 73. Stewart shot 74 and hit only seven fairways. Does Tracey give driving lessons?
Only Norman refused to fall completely away, despite having to battle an allergic reaction to some of the course's pine trees early in the round. As he stood on the tee of the famous island-green, par-3 17th, Shark had slunk to within three shots. But he hit his eight-iron just to the right of the green, and it trickled into the water to rest with the alligators. Just then Price, on 16, was lining up his sixth birdie putt of the day. Happiness is holding a three-shot lead and looking over to see Norman standing in the drop area.
"I literally couldn't see for the first six holes," Norman said afterward, explaining that he'd forgotten to take his allergy medication. "My equilibrium was off, and I couldn't sec when I was lining up." Norman, who finished tied for third and won $305,000 less than Price, got his medication before leaving the front nine, but it will go down as the most expensive bottle of Allerest in history.
No matter. Price's week was as dominating as any since Nick Faldo's romp through the 1990 British Open. Price's total—64-68-71-67 for 270—broke the tournament record by three shots. Afterward, sitting there grinning uncontrollably and fingering but not looking at the 18-inch crystal trophy, Price looked back on those unhappy years that now seemed many tears ago. "Those years made my career," he said. "Nineteen eighty-five, '86, '87, '88. All those years where I persevered without winning—it was really hard. I've been wanting to play golf this way for 15 years. And now that I've got it, I'm going to hold on to it as hard as I can."
Hard to believe, but things might just get better. Sue is expecting their second child. This time she promises to have it the week before the PGA.
Oh, one other thing: In golf's last two big tournaments, Nick Price's won-lost record is 2-0.