It's an odd walk, from the 9th green to the 10th tee at TPC Louisiana, home of last week's Zurich Classic, the New Orleans stop on the PGA Tour. On Sunday 71 players covered the 300 yards, walking under a grandstand made to look like the French Quarter, past human fans seeking autographs and mechanical ones blowing cool mist, by a squawking walkie-talkie that at one point announced a backed-up toilet, through the players' parking lot, across a footbridge and a little swampy woods before finally arriving at 10, where the players were offered fluffy cake and cold water and fresh starts.
Everybody did something on that walk. Tommy (Two Gloves) Gainey played in the fourth-to-last pairing with his three towels on a bag holding five head-covered clubs and, at times, a fluorescent-orange tee inserted into the back of his cap. He's from no known mold, and he practically raced across the parking lot, eager to see what the back nine would bring him. As it turned out, it was a three-under 33, getting him to 13 under, which got him a piece of third and into Charlotte this week. The week before, at Hilton Head, T. Gainey finished third as well, a shot out of a playoff. Gloves is playing good.
Charles Howell, in the third-to-last group, went out in 39 on Sunday and, as he made the turn, repeated to himself the mantra of every Tour player with staying power: "Just keep hanging in there, just keep plugging." He improved by five on the more difficult back nine for a final-round 73 and a 13th-place finish. He's one go-low Sunday away from winning again, for the first time since 2007.
George McNeill made the turn at 13 under and had two back-nine thoughts in his head as his soft spikes crossed the soft macadam in the penultimate group. Thought One: Go crazy low again, as he did on the back nine on Saturday when he shot 31, and win the thing, which would also have the benefit of earning him a spot in next week's Players. Thought Two: Don't mess up, get a top 10 finish and earn a spot in Charlotte. "The heat coming off that parking lot was good for me; it slowed me down," McNeill said. As it turned out, he took the don't-mess-up route, shooting a 37 coming home for a Sunday 70 and 276 for the four rounds, 12 under par. He tied for sixth. He's going to Charlotteworld.
But no players used the 9-to-10 walk better than the two guys in the last group, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, on a day they played 20 holes together, with Watson defeating Simpson, birdie to par, on the second playoff hole. A couple of hours earlier, when Watson made the walk past the transportation trailer and the press tent, he had to shake off the wet double bogey he had made on the par-3 9th. He did that with a brief, pointed conversation with his caddie, Ted Scott. The 25-year-old Simpson, then enjoying a two-shot lead, had better-looking company during the interlude: his wife, Dowd Keith Simpson, a newly minted SAG actress, fresh off a plane from Charlotte and carrying the couple's 10-week-old child, sweet baby James. While the Simpsons shared a kiss and a hug and a little inspirational bonding moment, Watson and Scott talked shop.
"I just listened to my caddie," Watson said in victory, three beaded necklaces around his neck, eyes damp with tears, as per usual when he wins, which he has done three times in the past 10 months. The caddie told his boss, "You're playing great. You're not out of this. We're good."
Watson's wife, Angie Ball Watson, a former Georgia basketball player, trailed behind her husband and his caddie as they crossed a lot filled with the Kia Sorentos the players were given last week as their courtesy rides. The Watsons don't believe in intraround conversation, although Mrs. Bubba is intensely involved in her husband's career. In victory Bubba talked about how she has inspired him "not to be a bad person on the golf course." He mentioned, movingly, that he and his wife can't have children. He said, "If I'm going to support kids and do charity work, that's not a good example to lead on a golf course." He's doing fine in that regard, and he couldn't be more entertaining to watch. Chicks dig the long ball, and guys do, too. It's not only Bubba's 350-yard drives. Check this: His second-shot seven-iron from a fairway bunker on the decisive playoff hole, on the par-5 18th, was from 220 yards. Two-twenty, seven-iron! O.K., it went about two bills. Still, that's comical. His two-putt birdie sealed the deal.
Simpson now has two seconds this year, and you know his first W is coming. Angie Watson would surely be proud of him: The red-cheeked man-boy set an excellent example on the golf course on Sunday. As he stood to tap in a half-foot par putt on the crispy 15th green of an underrated Pete Dye course, the wind moved his ball a half-inch, if that. If you've taken your stance and grounded your club anywhere behind the ball and the ball moves, Rule 18-2b is merciless: You are deemed to have moved your golf ball. Really, you did, even if it was in fact the wind that caused the ball to move. The ball goes back to its original position and the player tacks a stroke onto his score on the hole. Simpson, a Wake Forest grad and a bright young player, didn't hesitate to call in a PGA Tour official, and there was no debate about how to proceed.
The shot, you could argue, decided the tournament, and when it was over, Simpson made a good case for a rule change. "The unfortunate thing and the reason I don't think it's a good rule is that golf is supposedly the last gentleman's game," said Webb, who is on the Tour's player advisory committee. "There is so much on the players to call the penalty on themselves. When wind or other natural things affect the golf ball, the player shouldn't be penalized." What he says makes a lot of sense. The wind moves a ball and the player knows it, why should the player have to pay for it? Good luck in Far Hills, kid, and in Ponte Vedra Beach, too.
Anyway, you get the feeling that Dowd and Webb aren't going to need much luck. They're just lovely. On Sunday morning, with hubby in New Orleans and the missus still at home in Charlotte with James, they prayed over the phone, asking God to let Webb do his David imitation, from David versus Goliath, "to be fearless and rush the battle line," Dowd said while the playoff was under way.