The New Dean

Aug. 21, 2006
Aug. 21, 2006

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Aug. 21, 2006

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The New Dean

Dean Wilson recasts his image--and gets a Ryder Cup captain off the hook

Until Sunday, ifyou entered Dean Wilson's name in a search engine, you got a million links toAnnika Sorenstam. It was Wilson, after all--along with fellow Tour striverAaron Barber--who escorted the sassy Swede for two rounds when she sampledmixed-gender golf at the 2003 Bank of America Colonial. "That was always apositive for me," Wilson said on Sunday afternoon, still acting gallantlyafter three years of yada-yada Annika yada-yada. "But I kept tellingmyself, Dang it, I have to win a tournament so I can become known for somethingelse."

Wilson's wait is over. He won the International last week in Castle Rock,Colo., proving to all those Googlers and Yahoos that a 36-year-old from theeastern shore of Oahu can win his first PGA Tour event on a track devoid ofpalm trees and sandy beaches. Wilson didn't even need Sorenstam to keep himcompany. This time he wandered into the spotlight of U.S. Ryder Cup captain TomLehman, who had put aside his lineup cards and worries long enough to score 34points under the modified Stableford scoring system to tie Wilson over 72holes.

This is an article from the Aug. 21, 2006 issue

Lehman, 47, wouldbe the first to admit that he's no Annika. Even so, if he had won Sunday'splayoff the former British Open champ would have become the first Americancaptain since Jack Nicklaus in 1986 to win a Tour event during his term. A winwould have also put Lehman in position, with a week left in the Ryder Cup race,to make his own team on points. (The last U.S. captain to play in the matcheswas Arnold Palmer in 1963.) In other words, Wilson was again primed to appearin newspaper photos above a caption reading "... with Dean Wilson, left,who also played."

Instead, Wilson'sname will henceforth summon a host of links along the lines of "JourneymanPro Birdies Second Playoff Hole for First Tour Win."

"After Iwon," said Wilson, "there were a couple of fans out there from Hawaiiwho said, 'You're going to Kapalua [site of the winners-only MercedesChampionships]!' I don't know about all the other perks that come with it, butI'm satisfied--really satisfied--to have a trophy and have my name onit."

Somewhat lesssatisfied were the passel of top players who had flown to the Rockies to tuneup for this week's PGA Championship. The 36-hole cut claimed Chris DiMarco,Phil Mickelson, José María Olaàbal and Camilo Villegas, while eight players,including Fred Couples, didn't come back on Saturday morning to finish a secondround interrupted by thunderstorms. Of the marquee players, only Ernie Els (tiefor 10th) and Sergio García (29th) made any noise, and García spoke for thefrustrated when he said, "I haven't been able to find a hole on thegreen."

The subplot,therefore, as players labored up and down the steep slopes at Castle Pines GolfClub, centered on the efforts of a few U.S. players to either pad their RyderCup point totals--the top 10 after the PGA make the team--or impress Lehmanenough to become one of his two captain's picks (chart, page G13).

The captain,admitting that his own good play distracted him slightly from the evaluationprocess, was looking for players who didn't sparkle one week and stumble thenext. "You want to know what you're getting," Lehman said after thethird round. "You want to know what you're taking with you intocompetition." (Translation: Mercurial John Daly has no chance.) For thatreason Lehman was initially pleased with the play of third-round leader ZachJohnson, who started and ended the week ninth on the Ryder Cup points list."The thing I like is that his bad tournaments have not been too bad,"said Lehman. "He plays poorly and [still] finishes 30th or 25th. That's avery comfortable thought when you're going into an internationalcompetition."

Johnson, whoplayed two practice rounds with Lehman at the British Open in July, had to beencouraged by the captain's remarks. On the other hand, he was anxiouslylooking over his shoulder at Lehman, who began the week 29th in Ryder Cuppoints. "Knowing Tom, I think he wants to make the team himself," saidJohnson, who double-bogeyed the 1st hole on Sunday and finished 13th. "Andwhy not? He always hits it good. It's a matter of making putts."

What Lehmanshould do if he makes the U.S. team on points has been debated since he wasnamed captain two years ago. He has generally been coy about whether he wouldplay. "If I were to win tomorrow and make the team, I don't know what I'ddo," he told reporters last Saturday. But he revealed which way he wasleaning when he suggested that his U.S. team had quite enough power, but notenough finesse. "At the end of the day, the Ryder Cup is about putting andchipping," he said. "The guys that I pick will have good shortgames." Following his own reasoning, he added, "So when you ask would Iplay, probably not, because I'm not putting well. I feel as if I'd be lettingthe team down with the putter."

Sunday's finish,which had Lehman making birdie putts from 17, 15, three, 16 and 10 feet, mighthave caused him to reconsider, but he missed the putt that would have won thetournament--a downhill 15-footer for eagle (and five points) on the par-5 17th."It looked so fast, and it was so shiny going down the hill," Lehmansaid, "yet it came up about four inches short." Told that he would havewon if the format had been stroke play, Lehman smiled the weary smile of a manwho has finished second eight times since his last Tour win, the 2000 PhoenixOpen.

Wilson, on theother hand, could count the zeroes on his $990,000 paycheck and shrug off thefact that his victory at the International--worth 375 Ryder Cup points--put himat 22nd in the standings with 543.25 points, a long way from 10th-ranked BrettWetterich, who has 746. "It's a great feeling," the champion said,unconcerned that he might have to share Monday's headlines with the winner ofthe Scandinavian TPC in Stockholm.


page G8

Kimberly Kim is not Michelle Wie page G12 • MY SHOT Aheavenly course design page G14

PHOTOPhotographs by Todd Bigelow/Aurora FLYINGHIGH
Wilson made 22 birdies while edging Lehman at the International.
TWO PHOTOSPhotographs by Todd Bigelow/Aurora Closecall
Lehman was consoled by assistant U.S. captain Corey Pavin (inset) after almostqualifying for his own team.