In golf, you'realways one swing away from total humiliation. It's a stupid game, and those whoplay it know that there's only one thing that is certain to occur: Sooner orlater (usually sooner) you will fail, and fail badly. Then, unless you arenicknamed after a ferocious animal, you will fail badly again. Ask Scott Hoch.Ask Jean Van de Velde. Ask anyone. Golf's a bitch ... and then you die. ¬∂ Thetruth is, more tournaments are lost than won, even on the PGA Tour, as GregOwen can now attest. He is golf's newest poster boy for humiliation, replacingNathan Green, a little-known Australian who joined José María Olaàbal andTiger Woods in a playoff at the Buick Invitational in February. Afterdepositing his second shot into the stands on the first extra hole, Greencommitted golf suicide by flubbing a flop shot and stubbing a chip beforeexiting stage right.
Owen, 34, is anative of Mansfield, England, but owns a place five minutes from Bay Hill inWindermere, Fla., and when he finally got his star turn on Tour, at last week'sBay Hill Invitational, the show had a surprise twist at the end. At first itappeared that Owen would finish like a champ. At 16 he played a beautifulbunker shot for a kick-in birdie to take a one-shot lead over Rod Pampling.(Pampling, 36, is a likable Australian whose greatest, albeit most dubious,distinction before winning the 2004 International came during the 1999 BritishOpen at Carnoustie, where he became the only first-round leader in thechampionship's history to miss the cut.) The birdie came after Owen had erasedevery bit of Pampling's four-shot lead. He was aided greatly when Pampling, whohad played almost flawlessly for 66 holes, inexplicably knocked his teeshot--with a fairway wood--out-of-bounds on the 13th hole and made adouble-bogey 6.
Then came thesurprise ending. Pampling missed the green at the par-3 17th and made bogey.Owen hit a bold tee shot that was tracking at the flag. Inches from perfection,his shot landed just short of the green and rolled back into the rough. Owenchipped to a little more than three feet but then missed the putt that would'vegiven him a two-shot lead on the final tee box. Owen quickly walked over to his26-inch comebacker and ... horrors! The ball banked around the back of the cuplike Jeff Gordon in Turn 3 and shot out the other side. Forty inches. Threeputts. Double bogey. Double ouch.
At 18 Owen saileda nervous approach into the back-left bunker, splashed out to 12 feet andthen--double horrors!--saw his par putt shockingly curve around the cup againand stay out. Owen covered his face with his hands in disbelief. Pampling had ashort tap-in for par and the victory. Owen had given away the tournament withhis double bogey--bogey finish, and he knew it. He put his putter across hisshoulder blades, tilted his head back and looked into a darkening sky as hewaited for Pampling to putt out and make it official.
"I don't knowwhat to say," Pampling said to Owen in the scoring trailer as they signedtheir cards, "but I'm sorry."
"It's not yourfault," Owen replied. "I did it."
Words also failedwhen tournament host Arnold Palmer slipped the traditional winner's blue blazeron Pampling during a ceremony at the 18th green. "He looked at me and went,'Wow,'" Pampling said. "That was exactly what I said back tohim."
Chad Campbell wasalso there behind the 18th green waiting to congratulate Pampling. Campbell,like Pampling, lives in the Dallas area. They often practice together and havesimilar games--quick swings, low trajectories and streaky spells with theputter. Campbell's wife, Amy, drifted around the green snapping photos of thetrophy presentation with her digital camera. "He's good," Campbell saidof Pampling. "He's really good. It's hard to win out here. Two wins in twoyears isn't half bad."
Golf is cruel. Soare its rituals on Tour. After a quick interview with the Golf Channel behindthe scoring tent, Owen stopped to field a few questions from other TVreporters--"Ninety seconds," a PGA Tour rep barked at the mosh pit ofcameras and microphones, indicating how long the session would last.
"It'sheartbreaking at this moment," Owen bravely said for the cameras. "Itwas a lapse of concentration, I guess."
When the interviewended, Owen put both hands behind his head and stared at nothing for a few longseconds. Then he walked over to the gallery ropes and graciously signed about20 autographs for waiting fans. In the background Palmer's familiar voiceboomed over the public address system. He thanked spectators for supporting thetournament. "It was exciting, wasn't it?" Palmer said.
Owen then turnedand left for another grilling, by the print boys in the press tent. There hetold the assembled scribes that his three-putt was "a silly mistake thatI'll be remembered for." He lamented that he had this victory "in mypocket" and threw it away, and said that he could accept missing the firstputt at 17 but not the second. "To throw away a shot like that after thehard work you've done all week is simply stupid," Owen said.
Yep, golf's abitch.
A Son's Final Homage To His Father page G18
Mark Hensby Pulls No Punches page G10
Golfing Royalty's Tour Debut page G32
Owen three-putted from 40 inches on the 71st hole and lost by astroke.
Pampling (center) and Darren Clarke (right) felt Owen's pain.
Sergio García, who tied for 10th, was in contention until he, too, ran afoul of17--only on Saturday.