by G. Rennie
The Copperhead course at Innisbrook Resort outside St. Pete, Florida offered up a great competition today made more compelling by the number of engaging human interest stories of the guys in the hunt. On the surface it might seem that a lot of the guys on the PGA tour are rather bloodless copies made from a Waspish mold. But if you look a bit closer another, truer picture will emerge and today is a prime example.
Four men made it to the sudden death playoff and it seemed like it could have been six or eight at one stretch as seemingly everyone within hailing distance of the lead was going to make it to overtime. First in the house was journeyman Robert Garrigus, former wielder of the shortest putter in pro golf (now stroking the long putter) and owner of one tour victory. Next in was Luke Donald, the most consistently excellent golfer over the past 14 months, working to reclaim his #1 ranking after losing it last week to the anointed Rory McIlroy. Next came Sang Moon Bae, a Korean 22 year old with a name like a Top 40 pop ballad, who just happened to win the money title in Japan last year. And last into the house and the playoff was Jim Furyk, 2010 PGA Player of the Year, trying to win for the first time since the 2010 Tour Championship and banish memories of last year’s sub-standard season.
It could be that the bigger story was who didn’t hang on for the win or even hold on to secure a place in the playoff. A little sympathy for Scott Piercy, who finished his 9 under 62 to claim the clubhouse lead, just as the last group was underway on number one. But 12 under was never going to stand up with so many golfer’s on the course and the overnight leaders at -11 (it came damn close, though). A lot more sympathy for Ken Duke, another journeyman winless in 147 tour appearances, now 148, who fell a shot short when he failed to get up and down on the daunting par three 17th after a superb bunker shot to 4 feet.
Seventeen was the start of the end for the gent deserving of the lion’s share of sympathy. The Big Easy pushed his tee ball well right and deep, caroming off the grandstand and kicking back to a sparse lie short of the right greenside bunker. A near impossible up and down and when Ernie missed his 20 foot par save his one stroke lead was gone and he went to the 18th at -13 tied with five others. A pulled approach to the left green side rough led to a dodgy lie and the chip left Ernie a four foot left to right breaker that didn’t make it home. A bogey 5 left Ernie gutted, as the post round interview with Golf Channel’s Steve Sands clearly showed.
There are a number of golfers who are recognizable by their first names only and there are some who are known by their nicknames. But there aren’t too many who fall into both categories but Ernie, the Big Easy, is one of those rare gents. This three time major winner owns arguably the sweetest tempo of any golf swing we’ve ever seen. It’s a full, powerful move, never hurried, always in rhythm, slow and purposeful, but never lazy. It’s syrup, it’s poetry it’s love in a golf swing- a full embrace, controlled but passionate. And what’s more sad than unrequited love?
Ernie was within sight of a victory today that would have given him an invitation to the Masters, a tournament that has been a frequent tormentor of his. At 43, and with a balky putting stroke, you can wonder how often, if at all, Ernie will contend at Masters to come. I for one hope it’s often.