Understand this about tournament golf: Real men play 72 holes.
(Sorry, Seniors.) Declaring a champion after 54 holes is like
crediting the Chicago Bulls with a victory when they lead after
the third quarter (well, maybe that's a bad example), crowning
the winner before Final Jeopardy, paying off wagers at the
Kentucky Derby based on the horses' position at the third turn,
or ending the wrestling match when Hulk Hogan is reeling on the
ropes with absolutely no hope of escaping the bad guy's sleeper
Short-sheeting events when bad weather hits had become standard
procedure on the PGA Tour. Eighteen tournaments in the '90s have
either been shortened or scrubbed because of weather. But when
officials canceled last year's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
because of either an allegedly soaked fairway or the nagging
fear that Tour pros are made of sugar, they went too far.
No more. When a passing front dumped heavy rain on the Honda
Classic's new venue, the TPC at Heron Bay, in Coral Springs,
Fla., tournament officials called off last Friday's second round
and announced that the event would be shortened to 54 holes.
Routine stuff. Except Tour commissioner Tim Finchem called and
told Honda officials, in effect, "I don't think so." A few hours
later the Honda shifted into reverse. It was announced that, uh,
never mind, the tournament would be contested over 72 holes
after all and would feature a manly 36-hole finale on Sunday,
reminiscent of the long-discarded U.S. Open format. The last man
standing was Stuart Appleby, a 25-year-old Australian who beat
Michael Bradley and Payne Stewart by a stroke for his first Tour
victory. The double round was the first such finish since the
1994 Buick Open and a continuation of a let's-get-tough policy
that Finchem unveiled at last year's Tour Championship, which
was extended to Monday so the fourth round could be completed
even though Tom Lehman had such a ridiculously large lead that
nobody would have minded calling the event a wrap after three
rounds. "A tournament is 72 holes, isn't it?" says Colin
Montgomerie, a native of Scotland, where golf's traditions
began. "A 54-hole victory is never what you're looking for."
The players supported Finchem. There was potential controversy
at Heron Bay when the field was cut to the number closest to
60--instead of the usual low 70 and ties--so the players would
be able to squeeze in two rounds on Sunday. Ten players who
would have made the normal cut were sidelined. They were paid
$3,015 each and sent home last Saturday without a chance to
improve their positions; all had finished the second round 10
shots behind leader Paul Stankowski. "They do it at Pebble Beach
and nobody seems to mind," said Billy Andrade, a member of an
advisory council that reports to the Tour's policy board, of the
lower cut. "The talk was that everybody was tired of 54-hole
tournaments, that 72 holes is how you determine a champion,
though some guys wondered, Why can't we go to Monday?"
Tommy Tolles was among the players at the Honda who finished the
second round at 143, one under par, and made--then missed--the
cut. "I don't have any quarrel with it," he said. "I'm looking
for my first win, but I'd have a hard time accepting a trophy
for a 54-hole event."
Ken Green, another victim of the makeshift cut, came down on the
other side. "They chop it to 60, and you have no chance to play
two more rounds and pick up a monster paycheck," he said. "This
hurts me. This hurts my kids. This hurts my ex-wife."
It also hurt a lot of players who found that playing 36 holes in
one day, something many of them probably do only in U.S. Open
sectional qualifying, isn't easy. Was it the tough pin
locations, the final-round pressure or fatigue that caused 38 of
64 players to have a higher score on their second 18 on Sunday
while only 12 were lower? Lehman, the Tour's player of the year
in '96, made a big move with a 68 on Sunday morning, then shot
75 in the afternoon. Did the day feel like Open qualifying?
"Yeah--and I missed," he said. "After three weeks off, my game
wasn't ready for this. I played really well this morning, but my
concentration was shot this afternoon. You find out who has
stamina. You need a lot of energy to focus for 36 holes, and if
you run out of gas, you're cooked."
Ian Woosnam of Wales, who says he rediscovered his game last
year after he quit exercising, plummeted with a closing 76.
Andrade shot 80. Heavyset Guy Boros, sweating profusely,
stumbled home in 76 after making a run at the leaders in the
morning. Stankowski, who admitted he's no physical specimen,
joked that he was going to carbo-load on pancakes before he took
his one-shot lead into Sunday's marathon. He didn't break par in
either round and slipped back to a tie for fifth.
"Endurance is a factor when you play 36, but it's not like we
have to run," said Stewart. Still, maybe it wasn't surprising
that most of the contenders were young or fit or both. Like
Appleby. Not long ago he was mopping up in amateur tournaments
back home in Cohuna, a town of fewer than 5,000 people about 150
miles north of Melbourne, playing 36-hole matches both days on
the weekends, when he wasn't shagging balls from paddock to
paddock on his father's dairy farm. His home course, Cohuna
Country Club, has seven bunkers--100 less than Heron Bay--and is
maintained by the members, who take turns on the work crew. As a
child Appleby dreamed of playing in the Australian Masters, but
now he's in the U.S. version next month at Augusta. "It always
felt like it was so far away," Appleby said of the Masters.
"It'll be a huge buzz. I'll be nervous as heck just driving
through the gate."
Appleby showed few signs of nerves down the stretch. Stewart
eased two shots ahead with a birdie at the 11th, then missed a
two-footer for par at the next hole and failed to birdie the
remaining par-5s, the 14th and 16th. At the 14th, Appleby
flopped a wedge shot from the thick bermuda right of the green
into the cup for an eagle that put him into a tie for the lead.
"Too bad we can't play defense. I could've guarded that shot,"
joked Stewart, who played with Appleby.
The tournament turned on the par-5s. Appleby, who played on the
Tour last year but had to go to Q school in December to retain
his card, used his length to good advantage. He was 14 under
overall and 11 under on the par-5s. Stewart, who didn't birdie
the 14th or the 16th on Sunday morning either, finished five
under on the par-5s. "It was my tournament to win, and I
didn't," said Stewart, who has been the runner-up in this event
four times. He'll miss the Masters for the first time since 1991
unless he wins in the next three weeks. "I would love to play
Augusta--you can't win the Grand Slam if you don't," he said.
"But I don't live, eat and breathe the Masters. Winning is my
Bradley was the only other player with a chance to catch
Appleby. A strong, silent type, Bradley, 30, stayed alive with a
22-foot par-saving putt at the 17th. Then Appleby and his wife,
Renay, watched as Bradley narrowly missed a birdie attempt from
the same distance on 18 that would've forced a playoff. "I could
tell by his body language that he was trying to talk to that
putt," said Appleby. "I couldn't see the ball. My wife was more
nervous than I was. She had hold of my thumb and was grabbing it
so hard that I was buckling under the pressure. She was about to
Later Appleby, who lives in Orlando across the street from LPGA
star and fellow Australian Karrie Webb, took a congratulatory
phone call from yet another countryman, Greg Norman, the man who
did what Bob Dole couldn't--bring down President Clinton. Norman
should have also called Finchem and offered him kudos for not
letting the Honda Classic take the easy way out.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BEN VAN HOOK Bradley, who finished tied for second, took a breather during Sunday's grueling finale. [Michael Bradley sitting on golf bag]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BEN VAN HOOK Appleby's play on the par-5s jumped him to the top. [Stuart Appleby jumping]