- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
For a few moments on sunday it looked as if The Players Championship, the PGA Tour's showcase event, might be won by an amiable hulk with dark clown hair spilling out from under his cap. With a birdie on the 70th hole, 6'7" Phil Blackmar had shouldered his way to the top of a leader board that had included such marquee names as Azinger, Strange, Watson and Zoeller.
Blackmar, who looks like a bodyguard for a rock 'n' roll star, trundled to the 17th tee of the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Fla., sharing a one-stroke lead with Steve Elkington, a nominal Australian who, though almost as improbable as Blackmar, at least has some gallery appeal, as much for his conservative grooming as for his rank among the top 20 money-winners in 1990.
Big Phil, who couldn't handle his allotted 15 minutes of fame, hit his tee shot into the water to the right of the island green and made double bogey. But Elkington, shaking off a three-putt bogey on the same hole, birdied the 18th, one of the toughest finishing holes in golf, for his second Tour victory.
"One thing I've learned about being in contention is that you don't have to go berserk out there to win," the composed Aussie said afterward. "You just have to be there. At the end, inevitably, something happens. We all run out of holes."
Can you "be there" and not be visible? For 3� rounds, Elkington and Blackmar were never out of contention, but they were never in mind, either. They waited in the shadows while the name players loaded up on TV time and gallery support. Shouts of "Go get 'em, Tom!" and "You're the man, Fuzzy!" rang from the spectator mounds. If anybody yelled at Blackmar and Elkington, it was probably PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman screaming, "Choke!"
And who would have blamed him? The leader for most of the tournament was Paul Azinger, the Tour's most personable and exciting young player. Chasing Zinger were two shopworn but adored stars, Tom Watson and Fuzzy Zoeller—one afflicted with the yips, one blessed with the yaps.
Watson, with five British Open titles among his eight major championships, hasn't won a tournament since 1987, and he freely admits he gets what he calls "the flinches" on short putts. His only recourse, therefore, is to make his long putts. He did that last Saturday, converting nine straight one-putt greens on the way to a 65, the day's best round. On Sunday, though, he missed a short par putt on the 1st hole, and from there it was "Stop me, before I flinch again." Watson shot 77.
The garrulous, 39-year-old Zoeller had gone even longer without a win—five years. Bothered by a bad back, the former Masters and U.S. Open champion plays a limited schedule, but he has found a niche as designated quipster at the Tour's nine-hole shootouts on Tuesdays.
Playing with Azinger in the last pairing, Zoeller drove the ball beautifully in stiff winds and played almost error-free golf. The putts weren't falling for him, but he still had a chance to tie Elkington, at 12 under, with a birdie on 18. "It was very makable," Zoeller said of his 12-foot birdie attempt, which slid by the hole. "I remember when I did make those."
No one wanted to say it in front of Elkington, but a victory by Watson or Zoeller would have given The Players Championship a needed lift. If the stately Masters is the Mr. & Mrs. Bridge of tournaments, the Players is more like Regis and Kathie Lee without their morning coffee. Held for a decade now at the TPC course, the event has been a trial for Beman, who wants it recognized as the fifth major. Instead, the Players has turned into an annual roast of Beman, with the golfers fussing and the commissioner archly defending everything from the pin positions to the Tour's policies.