You know something exceptional is happening on the PGA Tour when the winner of a tournament says the best player is really a guy who finished tied for third. Yet that's exactly what happened after Bill Glasson won the Doral Ryder Open on Sunday.
A six-year Tour veteran, Glasson shot 71-65-67-72-275, 13 under par on the famed Blue Monster course at Doral Hotel & Country Club in Miami, to take the rich first prize—$243,000—by one stroke over Fred Couples and three over Mark Calcavecchia, Curtis Strange and Bruce Lietzke. Still, it was Calcavecchia who drew raves from the winner.
"Mark's the best I've ever seen," Glasson said. "He has no weaknesses, and absolutely no fear. He's the one guy out here who has really stepped forward." This from a man who, having just won his third tournament in his last nine starts (he took the Centel Classic and B.C. Open last year), hasn't exactly stayed in the background himself.
Glasson closed out his victory at Doral with a deft into-the-wind approach shot on the treacherous 18th, a par-4 with water on the left side for all 425 yards. The eight-iron was almost too much club; the ball ended up in the back fringe, 25 feet past the hole.
Calcavecchia and Glasson, playing together in the last group, were tied for the lead midway through Sunday's round. Then Calcavecchia, whose first three rounds were 65, 73 and 66, stumbled, bogeying 10 and 11. But he still had a chance to force a playoff with a birdie on the last hole.
"When Bill hit a good shot, it relaxed me," said Calcavecchia. "I thought. O.K., now you've just got to stiff it." But his six-iron from 171 yards fell woefully short into the water. Instead of a birdie, he made a double bogey, which sealed his fate.
Those were expensive strokes, but dollars are only a by-product of why Calcavecchia, 28, is the Tour's man of the moment. No one else has quite the same velvet hammer combination of pedal-to-the-metal swing and petal-soft touch around the green. While most players are just warming up this early in the year. Calcavecchia has gone out and won two tournaments, and come close in two more, making $426,552 in only two months. If you're checking on Calcavecchia's score in the sports-page agate, you can look for the longest last name on the Tour, but it's usually faster to start at the top of the list. No one has more top-10 finishes since 1987.
"I'm disappointed, but no biggie," he said on Sunday night. "This won't hurt my confidence. Sometimes you respond under the pressure, and sometimes you don't. I'll just let it fly at the pin next week. Things are going so good for me."
Calcavecchia has come too far in the last three years to let things get him down now. In 1986 he was a pudgy, immature guy who had lost his PGA Tour playing privileges five times and seemed to have a more secure future as a part-time caddie for his friend Ken Green. Even after he won two tournaments, Calcavecchia's success was attributed by many people to the mysterious powers of the square grooves on his Ping irons.
Those sentiments slowly began to change, and they dissolved completely after last year's Masters, when it took the shot of the year by Sandy Lyle to beat Calcavecchia by one stroke. At year's end, a slimmed-down Calcavecchia had won the Bank of Boston Classic and banked $751,912 in prize money.
This year Calcavecchia is riding a wave of confidence. After destroying the field by seven shots at the Phoenix Open, finishing with rounds of 65 and 64, he beat Lyle in a Sunday shootout at the Nissan Los Angeles Open.
Says Strange, who last year had the first million-dollar season on the Tour, "Forget about square grooves. Mark still would have beat the hell out of everybody. Mark's got the strength, the short game, and I think he's got the brains. Potentially, he can be dominant."
"Mark plays exciting golf," says Couples, whose own power game has earned him the nickname Boom Boom. "He'll take out his driver anywhere and just bomb it, and he has almost as many shots around the green as Seve [Ballesteros]. His short game keeps him from losing shots, and he birdies all the par 5s. I don't see anything stopping him."
"I don't leave much in the bag," says Calcavecchia. "There aren't too many humans in the world who can hit it farther than I do when I'm playing well."
At Doral, Calcavecchia opened with a five-birdie, one-eagle 65. He played with Jack Nicklaus, who struggled to a 78. "For the first time I felt like they used to feel when they played with me," marveled Nicklaus. "Mark hit it so hard and far, I felt totally inadequate."
It looked as if it might be Calcavecchia's week again, but Glasson asserted himself on Saturday. He took a one-shot lead with a birdie at the 18th, holing out from a greenside bunker.
After a two-under-par 34 on the front nine Sunday, which tied him with Glasson, Calcavecchia missed three-foot par putts on the next two holes and never recovered. "I couldn't regain my composure," he admitted.
He signed his scorecard, forced a smile, then found his wife. Sheryl, and they walked arm in arm to the pressroom. "She told me I handled myself like a real professional. That might not have been true before I met her," said Calcavecchia. "Sheryl gives me my direction." They have been married 16 months and are expecting their first child in August. Some folks think that bodes ill for the rest of the Tour.
"Ben had his best year when I was pregnant," said Julie Crenshaw, who gave birth in 1987. "Linda Watson says Tom played his best when she was pregnant. I'm saying, Look out for Mark."
Even Bill Glasson would agree that that's good advice.
On Sunday Calcavecchia shared the lead until he started missing putts on the back nine.
Quick to compliment his challenger, Glasson proved himself outstanding on the tee, too.