Prince of Darkness
Scott Hoch was vilified for halting a playoff but came out a
winner in the end
Scott Hoch doesn't care what you think. Golf's leading contrarian
has made a career out of uttering unpopular opinions--he has
dissed the Old Course as overrated and the Ryder Cup as
overhyped, raised the ire of his fellow pros for skipping the
British Open and the hackles of PGA Tour staff for continually
criticizing their course setups. On Sunday night at the Ford
Championship, Hoch made one of the boldest statements of his
career by doing nothing at all.
Locked in a sudden-death duel with Jim Furyk, Hoch reached the
second extra green at Doral's Blue Monster and decided it was
simply too dark to effectively read the break on his nine-foot
birdie putt. (Furyk was facing a six-footer for birdie.) In an
age when sports is entertainment and image everything, Hoch
simply canceled the show, leading to a shower of boos and
catcalls from the unsatisfied spectators. At Hoch's request, and
with Furyk's consent, play was suspended at 6:33 p.m., seven
minutes after sunset. The overtime was resumed Monday at 8 a.m.,
in golden morning light, and both players poured in their birdie
putts. Hoch took the title with a textbook birdie on the next
hole, Doral's 18th.
It was poetic justice that Hoch came out on top, because he made
an unpopular decision that happened to be correct. Said Furyk
following the postponement, "His charm, in a strange way, is that
for good or for bad, he tells it like it is. You have to
appreciate that [even if] you would like to stick a sock in his
mouth once in a while so he wouldn't say it."
March 17, 2003
Hoch was unrepentant, saying, "If I feel that it's a disadvantage
for me to continue because I can't see the line on my putt, then
I shouldn't play and they shouldn't hold that against me." Who
are they? Fans, reporters, Tour officials, network suits, Furyk's
extended family, whomever.
Hoch was desperate to preserve his chance to win, at least for 14
more hours, because he is acutely aware of how fleeting time can
be. At 47 and with high mileage, this could have been his last
shot at victory on the PGA Tour. "The thing is, you don't know
when you're going to win your last tournament, that's the issue,"
says Hoch, who nearly withdrew before the first round because of
a sore left wrist.
Following the postponement, Hoch was criticized for being
shortsighted, which was ironic, given that he spent much of the
week discussing his vision. Hoch has had three LASIK surgeries in
the last 18 months, but he insists his eyesight is fine. "I got
my eyes fixed, but [the doctor] didn't give me night vision," an
exasperated Hoch said Sunday evening.
It should be noted that during the playoff Furyk, too, was having
trouble seeing. Playing a pitch into the green on the second
extra hole, he had to bend over to check the lie. Still, Furyk
indicated that he was willing to putt out had that been Hoch's
It wasn't, of course, so on Monday morning Hoch and Furyk played
another hole and a half, just enough for Hoch to earn the
victory, and sweet vindication.
when he has his A game, Ernie Els is as overwhelming a force as
Tiger Woods. What separates them is that Woods still has the
toughness to grind out a win when he's not at his best. Els,
meanwhile, has lost on the 72nd hole this year to the likes of
Lian-Wei Zhang and Robert-Jan Derksen.
Arnold Palmer, having played in his final Masters last year
after 48 consecutive appearances, has told intimates that his
trip to Augusta this April will be a quickie. Palmer plans to
attend Tuesday evening's past champions' dinner and then
promptly skip town, forgoing the Wednesday afternoon par-3
tournament in which he is the perennial crowd favorite. Palmer,
73, is eager to avoid the protests and related messiness that
are threatening to overshadow this year's tournament. Though his
public comments thus far have been neutral, Palmer, a member at
Augusta National as well as two other men-only clubs (Adios, in
Coconut Creek, Fla., and Preston Trail, in Dallas), supports
Hootie Johnson's stance that Augusta National's membership
policy is a tradition worth preserving.
Following his playoff loss at last year's British Open, Thomas
Levet of France has been exploring the brave new world of the
PGA Tour, and he has received a warm welcome from U.S. fans
despite the state of international politics. "That's what I like
about people in America--they go to see the game," Levet said
from Doral. "They're not going to annoy sportsmen, which could
happen in Europe." Levet also offered his thoughts on the
Augusta National controversy, with the aplomb typical of a
Frenchman: "Good-looking women, they wouldn't hurt the club, so
why not accept them?"
From the About Time Department: PGA champ Rich Beem is finally
taking some measures to salvage what so far has been a
disastrous season. Beem--who has missed the cut in four out of
five stroke-play events, finished dead last at the no-cut
Mercedes Championships and lost in the first round of the Match
Play Championship--has scheduled a two-day spring training,
beginning March 24 in Dallas, with his swing coach, Cameron
Doan, the head pro at Preston Trail. It will be Beem's first
multiday session with Doan since last fall.
Is Bob Tway the worst front-runner in golf history? In his
19-year career, which has featured seven Tour wins, he has held
the first-round lead 14 times without going on to win any of the
events. Last week at Doral, Tway opened 65-68 to take a 36-hole
lead for the seventh time--he was 0 for 6 coming into the
week--and he also shared the three-round lead, his sixth time
atop a leader board going into Sunday. (The only time he pulled
off a victory under those circumstances was in 1986, at
Westchester.) Tway shot a final-round 71 to finish third, adding
to his dubious resume.
VOTE AT GOLFONLINE.COM
THIS WEEK: Did you agree with Scott Hoch's decision to suspend
his playoff with Jim Furyk at Doral because of darkness?
LAST POLL: Who was the real king of the West Coast swing--Ernie
Els, Mike Weir or Tiger Woods?
Woods.....50% Weir.....33% Els.....17%
--Based on 5,388 responses to our informal survey