Jack Taylor,father of Vaughn, is a master of hyperbole. Asked last Friday how many friendsand relatives were following his son around Augusta National, he said, "Youdon't have enough fingers and toes to count 'em all." Asked the samequestion a couple of hours later, when Vaughn was riding high on thesecond-round leader board, Jack said, "You don't have enough paper to list'em all, and if you have enough paper you don't have enough ink." Thesparkle in his eyes told you that Jack Taylor could go on.
Come Sunday evening, however, the plainspoken drywall contractor and his wife,Lynn, seemed content to watch their son walk up the 18th fairway alongside hisold Nationwide tour roommate--fella by the name of Zach Johnson--with thousandsstanding and applauding and millions more watching on television.
"Well..." Jack said.
We leanedforward, anticipating a verbal skyrocket ending with a rhetorical aerial bomband quotable flares.
"... we'vehad quite a week."
That wasunexpected. But I guess you get worn down when your son, a hometown boy playingin his second Masters, is a fixture on the leader board for four rounds. Youdouble dribble an adverb or two. You fumble a superlative.
Jack could beforgiven. After all, for most of Masters week he had the thankless job ofpopping reporters' balloons. Some stranger with a notepad would sidle up andfloat the observation that 20 years had passed since a hometown boy had won theMasters, and if either Vaughn or Charles Howell could pull it off ... nudge,nudge, wink, wink.
Jack's answer:"I'll tell you something you probably don't want to hear. I don't pay anyattention to all that garbage."
Other reportersworked the rivalry angle, characterizing Vaughn, 31, as the muni-bred underdogwho had to dig his game out of the dirt and Howell, 27, as the country-club kidwho had everything handed to him on a silver platter.
Jack's response:"There's no rivalry, no animosity. They never really competed against eachother until they were professionals, and they get along fine. Charles is agreat young man, and I know his parents well."
Jack's reticencewas understandable. Augusta, like any other American town, has its social faultlines and class distinctions; some were exposed last April when Taylor playedin his first Masters and Howell played in his fifth. It's not exactly A Tale ofTwo Cities, but Taylor grew up in semi-industrial South Augusta while Howell(son of a pediatric surgeon) was raised in a magnolias-and-azaleas neighborhoodnear the National. Taylor bicycled a mile to the Goshen Plantation Golf Clubwith his clubs balanced on the handlebars, while Howell had merely to swing bythe bag room at the elegant Augusta Country Club. Taylor took lessons from a$25-an-hour assistant pro who has since pursued a career in medical sales,while Howell made regular trips to Orlando to train with the renowned DavidLeadbetter.
Neither path ledto glory at the 2006 Masters. Taylor missed the 36-hole cut by a stroke, andHowell finished 15 strokes behind Taylor.
This time,despite the fact that Taylor was coming off a Ryder Cup appearance--an honorthat Howell has yet to achieve--the invidious comparisons broke in favor ofHowell. "He's my dark-horse pick to win," CBS reporter David Fehertytold a gang of out-of-towners at a pre-Masters party. That prompted amustachioed Scotsman to bellow, "Yes! Charlie!"
The heckler wasformer European Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance, who thought Howell's world rank(15th) and recent form (third on the PGA Tour money list with a playoff winover Phil Mickelson at the Nissan Open) showed that he was close to achievingthe stardom predicted for him when he turned pro out of Oklahoma State sevenyears ago. "He has immense length, and that's key around here," saidTorrance. "Plus, he's played a lot of rounds with Tiger and you learn fromthat. He's ready." Leadbetter, who has coached Howell from age 12 on,voiced similar sentiments while following his man around the National lastThursday. "When you look at the current crop of Tiger challengers, Tigerhas got quite a lead," he said. "But Charles is certainly in hisrearview mirror."
Taylor, on theother hand, was on a whole different highway. A 1999 graduate of his hometownschool, Augusta State (which he attended on a fractional athletic scholarshipbecause no other golf program was interested in his skills), Taylor took fiveyears to claw his way up from the Hooters tour to the Nationwide tour to theShow, finally cashing in with victories at the 2004 and '05 Reno-Tahoe Opens.His performances this year, however, had been tepid, a third-place finish inthe Arnold Palmer Invitational producing most of his 38th-best $611,462 inofficial money.
For thatreason--and because he is militantly shy--Taylor slipped through the Mastersmedia net until Friday afternoon, when his two-round score of one-under 143landed him in third, a stroke behind Tim Clark and Brett Wetterich. Until then,Taylor was just the skinny guy surfing the wake of applause of three-timechampion Gary Player, who was playing in his 50th Masters.
Naturally, therewere questions. Was it true, a reporter asked, that the first Masters thatTaylor had attended was the 1987 edition, won by Larry Mize?
"Yeah,"said Taylor, "I believe it was. I thought it was pretty amazing that he wonhere in his hometown."
What did Playersay to Taylor immediately after the round?
"Oh, he saidthat I was a great player and that I could win this week," Taylor said,blushing. "It puts a smile on my face to hear him say thosethings."
It was obvious,though, that this was not going to be a smiley-face Masters. A cold wind blewup on Saturday, freezing the facial muscles and chilling the competitive heart.Taylor briefly held the lead at one over after a birdie on 15, but he bogeyedin to shoot 77 and finished the day in a tie for fourth, two behind third-roundleader Stuart Appleby. Howell, who had made the cut on the number, shot athird-round 75 and stood 34th.
Augustans whoknow both players joked that if Taylor won on Sunday, Howell, a more confidentspeaker with a flair for fashion, should sub for him at the green jacketceremony. "Vaughn's a pretty quiet guy," Jack Taylor conceded. "Hehas a different fan appeal than Jason Gore or John Daly."
"Vaughn nevertalked much," added his sister, Anne Rachels. "I was a socialbutterfly, but he just played sports and did his homework. We shared a car fora while, and I had it pretty much to myself. He wasn't going anywhere."That didn't turn out to be true, but Taylor remains rooted and single; he livesnear Augusta in Evans, Ga., and he continues to play and practice at GoshenPlantation.
Predictably--because what are the odds?--neither of the Augustans got to slipon the green jacket this time. Howell shot a final-round 74 and finished 30th,while Taylor bogeyed the last two holes for a 75 and a tie for10th--"disappointing," he said, but good enough for an automaticinvitation to the 2008 Masters. "I didn't handle my emotions well atall," the quiet man added, "but I haven't contended in a major before.I definitely improved over last year. Maybe next year will be theyear."
Taylor'searnestness was appealing. So was his willingness to linger outside theclubhouse and reminisce about his friend Johnson and their hardscrabble days onthe Nationwide tour. "We stayed in Super 8s and tried to save money as bestwe could. We played golf courses that were sometimes downright pathetic. Itwasn't fun at times. The entry fees were $800 a tournament, and we'd spendsomething between $1,200 and $1,800 a week. You finished top 10, you might noteven make that back."
He looked out atthe 18th green, where a sun-dappled, eerily quiet gallery waited for the finalgroup, Appleby and Woods, to mop up. "Me and Zach, we never knew we'd beplaying here together--him winning and me playing well."
Johnson, for hispart, credited Taylor with an assist on his victory, saying, "Having abuddy next to you certainly doesn't hurt. I was actually aching for him attimes because I thought he played better than what he shot." And then camethe hyperbole: "So you know, we'll be friends forever. He's a great guy,and I think at some point he'll be in this position. You're not going to forgetVaughn Taylor, for sure!"
Or was itunderstatement?
In only his second Masters, Taylor held the lead after 51 holes and ultimatelytied for 10th.
Howell, who had a win and four other top 10s this season, was the morefashionable pretournament pick.
Johnson and Taylor forged a bond while making the same stops together on theirway to the PGA Tour.¬†