Len Mattiace won in L.A. by learning from past blowups
There's been a lot of hand-wringing in recent years over the idea
that golf is becoming too easy for the savants on the PGA Tour,
but the early returns on the 2002 season suggest the opposite.
Three up with seven to play, Scott McCarron kicked away last
week's Nissan Open with startling ineptitude (page G16). His
homely finish marked the third straight week a would-be champion
choked coming down the stretch--J.L. Lewis at San Diego (afterward
even he uttered the dreaded c word) and Pat Perez at Pebble Beach
preceded McCarron. In all, six of the year's seven winners have
come from behind on Sunday, which is another way of saying that
six out of seven times the leader has blown it.
Even the beneficiary of McCarron's collapse seemed distressed by
the trend. "I wouldn't wish that on anyone," Len Mattiace said of
McCarron's finish. This from a 34-year-old journeyman who had
been winless in his previous 219 starts on Tour. Mattiace's
compassion comes from bitter experience. During the final round
of the 1998 Players Championship, he arrived at the Stadium
course's 17th hole only a stroke off the lead. He proceeded to
hit two balls into the water and make a quintuple-bogey 8--with
his gravely ill mother watching from a wheelchair near the green.
So much of a golfer's success is determined between the ears,
but Mattiace describes Sunday pressure as a physical experience.
"Your heart pounds in your chest," he said following his
victory. "You breathe a lot quicker. You feel a little jittery
in your stomach. Your legs get a little weak." Never more so
than on the steep walk up Riviera's 18th fairway, but on Sunday,
Mattiace delivered a gorgeous eight-iron to set up the winning
par, one last solid strike in a rock-steady round of three-under
68. "I blocked out all the garbage and executed the shot," he
said. As opposed to everybody else.
McCarron's self-immolation is what will be remembered, but plenty
of other players flamed out during the final round. The game's
best putter, Brad Faxon, missed a series of shortish birdie tries
on the back nine; on 18, trailing by a stroke, he left a
12-footer an inch short. Standing on the 6th tee, Toru Taniguchi
hadn't made a bogey in his previous 32 holes and had surged into
a tie for the lead. Over the next four holes he made three bogeys
and would finish two strokes back.
"What happens is, you get into areas you're not familiar with,"
said Mattiace. "Getting a chance to win a tournament--that's not
something that happens to you every day. Today I had the same
feelings as at the Players Championship, but I had a little more
experience at handling them."
Mattiace displayed uncommon dignity after his debacle at Sawgrass
and as much sportsmanship in victory. He deserves to be
remembered as a worthy champion, but in this, the year of the
gaffe, another image will linger. Following his postround press
conference Mattiace hopped into a van to make his escape. Its
radio was tuned to a sports-talk station, and no sooner had he
settled into his seat than the strains of a news bulletin filled
the vehicle: "Len Mattiace won the Nissan Open today when Scott
McCarron bogeyed the 18th hole...." Upon hearing that, Mattiace
smiled grimly and shook his head.
Charles Howell III, the earnest 22-year-old from Augusta,
couldn't have picked a more unlikely mentor than Jesper
Parnevik, 36, the far-out Swede, but they're tighter than their
J. Lindeberg pants. Here's a diary of their week in L.A.
Pretournament Parnevik tries to convince Howell that the Apollo
11 moon landing took place on a soundstage in Nevada. "You look
at the pictures and the flag is waving, but there's no air on the
moon," says Parnevik, who gleaned his theory from the Ralph Rene
book NASA Mooned America! Though his protege is "very gullible,"
according to Parnevik, Howell says, "Right now, I'm not 100
percent sure either way."
Thursday Inspired in part by Howell, Parnevik putts cross-handed
for the first time (above, right). He drops a pair of 30-footers
en route to a 65 and the lead. Later, at the range, Parnevik is
confronted by a gorilla in a pink tutu. As the ape croons an
abridged version of the Carpenters classic Close to You, 40
players and caddies join in. As a finale, the faux simian reads
Parnevik a valentine: "Win one for us this week. Love, Mia and
the kids." (The message is a plea: L.A. is Jesper's seventh
straight week on the road, and he has told Mia he's not coming
home until he wins.)
Friday Frustrated with rounds of 68-71, CH3 asks Parnevik for
advice. He responds with a riddle: "Two guys in two hotel rooms
have two empty boxes. Each box has its own padlock and key. One
guy has a diamond, and he has to send it to the other through the
bellboy. The bellboy can make unlimited trips between the rooms
but will steal anything save a locked box. If the diamond is put
in the box and locked up, he won't steal it. But if the key is
sent, he'll steal that. How does one guy get the diamond to the
Saturday Howell shoots a record 28 on the Riv's front nine and
finishes with a 64, vaulting into sixth. "I was thinking about
the riddle instead of golf," he says, "and I guess it worked out
Sunday Having abandoned his putting experiment, Parnevik shoots
72 to skid to 29th. No homecoming is imminent. Howell shoots 69
to tie for sixth and is already looking forward to a practice
round with Parnevik at La Costa. "I have to get the answer to the
riddle out of him," he says. (A hint, Charles: If both padlocks
are on the same box, with the diamond inside, you're golden.)
Jim Murray (above) may be tickling a typewriter in the great
press room in the sky, but his presence was felt at the Nissan
Open, played in his adopted hometown. On the day before the
tournament Linda McCoy-Murray, the widow of the Los Angeles
Times's Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, delivered to Jeff
Sluman a long-overdue signed copy of Jim Murray: An
Autobiography. Linda had been picking through a stack of her
husband's books when she discovered one with the inscription,
"For Jeff Sluman--One of my favorite golfers ever! Fairways and
greens." It was dated "L.A. Open '97," a year and a half before
Murray died. "It's a wonderful surprise," says Sluman, who had
asked for a copy of the book in 1994. "It was out of respect for
an unbelievable writer."
If Ty Tryon is the Justin Timberlake of the PGA Tour, than
Natalie Gulbis is being positioned as the LPGA's Britney Spears.
Like the omnipresent pop tart, Gulbis, 19, is trying to use her
flaxen-haired beauty to cross over into the performing arts. For
the past two months she has been taking twice-weekly acting
lessons in Los Angeles, a considerable commitment for someone
whose previous thespian experience was in a school production of
Grease when she was 12. A cameo on a WB sitcom recently fell
through, but even if Gulbis fails to dazzle Tinseltown, the
acting experiment should help her golf. "I've learned to have a
little more confidence and to get over some of my insecurities,"
she tells SI. "It's also made me more aware of where my
concentration level is."
In other LPGA teenybopper news: Catherine Cartwright, 18, has
pledged to donate the first check of her rookie year to the
Special Operations Warrior fund, which benefits children of
Special Ops soldiers killed in the line of duty. Motivated to
give something back by the events of Sept. 11, Cartwright chose
the Warrior fund after consulting with her uncle Col. Charles
Cartwright, who was in the Pentagon when it was attacked.
Catherine, who finished ninth on the SBC Futures tour money list
in 2001, will also donate $25 for every birdie she makes on
either the LPGA or Futures tour, and she's asking potential
sponsors to call her at 941-992-3338 to support the birdie
drive. "I'm living my dream, and I want to help these children
live theirs," she says.
In December, Claude Harmon IV left his father's Butch Harmon
School of Golf, in Las Vegas, to set up shop in London. The move
will allow him to spend more time with his European tour
clients, including Darren Clarke and Adam Scott. Harmon, who's
married to a Scot, tells SI, "I'm trying to make my own name, do
my own thing."
by Sal Johnson
John Daly's third-round 72 at the Nissan Open snapped his streak
of 15 consecutive rounds at par or better. Chris DiMarco, Fred
Funk and Kenny Perry lead the Tour with 17 straight.... Doug
Tewell won the Verizon Classic by a stroke over Hale Irwin
despite shooting 38 on the back nine on Sunday, the highest score
on a final nine by a Senior winner since 1999.... Tewell has won
five of 64 Senior starts. He was four for 541 on the regular
Tour.... Nicholas Lawrence, 21, won the Southern Africa tour's
season finale, the Tour Championship in Maleane, South Africa,
thus earning an invitation to August's WGC-NEC Invitational....
Tim Clark finished a stroke back, clinching the top spot on that
tour's money list and an exemption into the British Open and the
WGC-American Express Championship.
Unless this week's Match Play Championship is a thriller, the
2002 West Coast swing will go down as one of the worst in recent
memory. Ugly finishes, too many low-profile winners and a
slumbering Tiger recall the early-1990s malaise.
Vote at golfonline.com
After a three-month hiatus the LPGA finally begins its 2002
season next week. Have you missed women's golf?
LAST WEEK: With the PGA Tour visiting Torrey Pines and Riviera in
back-to-back weeks, which retooled course would make a better
host for the U.S. Open?
Torrey Pines 67% Riviera 33%
--Based on 2,258 responses to our informal survey.