Boy, Greg Norman had seen that face somewhere before. But where?
Ah, forget it. Don't even think about it. Standing here on the 18th tee, the first playoff hole of the PGA Championship at Inverness, with the guy in the blue blazer holding out the two draw numbers, his hand trembling like a paint shaker, there was plenty not to think about.
Norman didn't want to think about how seven years ago he had stood here in Toledo on a Sunday, tied for the lead in the PGA. Same course. Same tee box. Stood here with Bob Tway. Played the hole just the way it says on the course map, looking for a sure two-putt par. Good enough, especially with Tway in jail in the front trap. But then Tway went and did something stupid like make history, holing the thing from San Quentin and sending Norman on a string of buzzard's luck that would make a Zen master kick a hole in a wall.
Still, can't think about it. Norman had told the press at the beginning of the week that he was done discussing 1986. The statute of limitations had expired. He was a new man, fresh from his greatest victory, a month ago at the British Open. Everything else was yesterday.
"When you win today," some man told Norman as he stepped out of his car Sunday morning, "I want you to take your hat and throw it in that bunker. You throw it in the same exact spot where Tway made that shot." Norman smiled and thought to himself, Not a bad idea.
And now maybe he was trying not to think of that and trying not to think of all the hell he'd gone through already today just trying to get to this tee box. Pulled himself out of the grave he'd dug on the front nine. (Cripes, he'd taken two to get out of a bunker on the 6th hole, just like your basic Toledo cab driver, for a very lovely double bogey.) Coming back from three shots down, half punky from the flu, and birdieing his way past no less than Nick Faldo and Tom Watson and Hale Irwin to tie the unbreakable bean pole next to him, Paul Azinger.
You think the blue blazer was nervous, you should have seen Azinger, who was wondering who had shut off the town's oxygen supply. His lungs wouldn't compress, his fingers tingled, his head was throbbing, and his heart was about to throw a rod. It was beating like a hummingbird's, and every time it did, flashbulbs popped in front of his eyes. He had spent the day trying to remind himself to do his breathing exercises. Inhale. Count four. Exhale. Count four. Here he was, on the rim of the biggest tournament of his life, and he's running a Lamaze clinic.
Try not to think about what lay before Azinger—a chance to win his first major after 10 years on the Tour and so many disappointments. Bogeying the last hole at the 1987 British Open to lose to Faldo. Falling back on the last nine of half a dozen other majors. Wondering if he would someday try to get out of bed only to find a 5,000-pound Potential lying on his chest. "I wondered if I'd ever be able to do it," Azinger said later. "I really wondered if I was capable."
Look at all the other hopers and dreamers and schemers who had crashed around Azinger on the way to this tee box. There was Faldo, who had played flawless, bogeyless, seamless golf, who had shot his third 68 of the tournament and lost by a shot. That's two straight major Sundays Faldo has started in the hunt, shot 68 or better and lost. Maybe his mother was right. Should have gone into the theater.
There was 43-year-old Tom Watson, the American Ryder Cup captain, who came to the 95% humidity of In-Furnace smoking his golf ball as he had at no time in the last 15 years. Captain Crunch he was again—and a sentimental choice. In his brilliant career he'd never won a PGA. If he could, he would become only the fifth man in history to pull off the Career Grand Slam and would end the longest dry gulch of his life, six years. "This would be the biggest victory of my career," Watson kept declaring. "I may not get another chance like this."
Watson's winless gulch was carved out by years of the yips, but this time he had a hope: the Mystery Putter. Sent to him by an anonymous benefactor, the club felt like chocolate in his hands. With it, he was putting like a man half his age—like himself in 1974. "I'd like to thank the guy who sent it to me," he said. But nobody stepped up. Hmmmmmm. Are you sure there are no golf gods?
But then Watson came to the 1st tee on Sunday one shot out of the lead, and immediately three-jacked the 1st hole and on the 3rd missed a par putt that was no longer than his arm.
Then there was Vijay Singh, from Fiji, who once gave golf lessons on the island of Borneo, if you can picture that. Uh, Mr. Singh. You have a 3:30 with Gilligan and a four o'clock with Mary Ann. Singh is known far and wide as the hardest-practicing player since Ben Hogan. It is not unusual for him to practice for three hours after a round. He is the sort who would like nothing more out of life than a very nice villa on the range, overlooking the 200-yard sign.
The 30-year-old Singh is starting to blister American courses, and Friday was another Singh-along—a course-record 63 that gave him the lead. He even held the lead for a while on Sunday until he made one crummy mistake, one tiny little three-putt on the 16th hole. He finished fourth, two shots out.
And finally there was the Texas hustler, Lanny Wadkins, who was playing not just for a major but for something far more precious to him, a spot on the Ryder Cup team this September in England. Wadkins likes the Ryder Cup, and the Ryder Cup likes him—he has lost only 10 of 30 Cup matches. There were only two ways for Wadkins to make the team: win the PGA or become one of Captain Watson's two free picks. He quickly went to work on the latter.
In a Tuesday practice round Wadkins teamed with Watson to beat Ryder members Lee Janzen and Azinger out of some serious cabbage. On Wednesday he gave Watson a putting tip. On Friday he treated Watson to dinner and then went back to Watson's place and lost to him at hearts. ("Lemme tell you," Wadkins confided, "it's tough for me to lose at hearts.") He did everything but wash and wax Watson's courtesy car.
And in case sucking up didn't work, Wadkins planned to go out and win the tournament. He began Sunday only one shot behind Norman and looked like a very tough egg to whip. All week the holes had looked so big to Wadkins that he was afraid he might lose a caddie down one. But Sunday came up Honey, I Shrunk the Hole. He made 13 straight pars before his clubs, exhausted from trying, double-bogeyed the 14th. The next morning Captain Watson picked Wadkins for the team anyway (along with stalwart Raymond Floyd). Perhaps Watson needed a pinochle partner.
All of which left Norman and Azinger rubbing shoulders on the 18th tee box, the summit of a very impressive and exclusive peak. Both had fashioned four rounds in the 60s, and now, sudden death. The match was on. Azinger picked the number 1 from the blue blazer's trembling mitt and hit first.
But there was that face, the vaguely disturbing face of Azinger's caddie. Where had Norman seen that face?
Both arrived at that 18th green in two, and Norman prepared to putt from 18 feet for birdie. Not a dozen yards from where he stood, Tway had hit the shot that sent Norman on a seven-year spin. Now, if there was any justice, this putt would drop. It was symmetry. It was poetry. Inverness owed him. And when it paid up, maybe he would throw that hat into Tway's Twap and let it land softly over the spot from which his thorny vine of troubles first sprouted.
Magnificently, Norman's putt did go in.
And then it came out.
It went down into the hole, took a nice long look, hung a moment and then spit itself out after a 270-degree loop. Just Norman's luck. He had found the only golf ball in the world afraid of the dark.
"Two feet from the hole, there was no doubt in my mind that putt was in," Azinger said afterward. Norman could not believe it. He threw his putter into the air and clutched his face. "That's as perfect a putt as I could've hit," he said later.
Now, at this point everybody from the bunker-raker to the blimp pilot realized that Norman was doomed. There was no fighting it. He three-putted the next playoff hole, the 10th, from 18 feet, leaving his birdie putt five feet short and, naturally, lipping out the par putt. Azinger had two-putted, and suddenly the title belonged to a man who claimed to have not broken 70 until 1981, and to have been unable to break 80 two days running. He can now. He shot 69-66-69-68, a 12-under 272.
It was a stirring tournament for 73 holes, but the 74th was plain and whimpering. It was a masterpiece signed with a spray can. But it was a major, and it was Azinger's, at long last. The flashes left his eyes, replaced by tears. He went from being halfway up the hill, where he was waiting to go on to the next playoff hole, to hugging his caddie, Mark Jimenez, and the trophy and most of Toledo.
"It feels like I always hoped it would feel," he said afterward. "All day I asked myself. Are you up to this? I mean, what are you gonna do, throw up or what? And I held up to the pressure."
As for Norman, it felt exactly like most majors feel to him, like heartache. He became the first man in 50 years to lose playoffs in all four majors, thus achieving the Grand Slammed. He is now the proud owner of six second-place finishes in major tournaments, and nine seconds already in the 1990s, which is more seconds than even Meat Loaf ever took. "Well," Norman said grimly, "at least I've been in there, I suppose."
And then he walked into another joyless, trophyless, heartless Toledo dusk. Maybe that's when it dawned on him.
That face. Azinger's caddie's face. He remembered just where he had seen it before. And maybe the realization stopped him in his tracks.
He was Tway's caddie that day. At Inverness. In 1986.