As they practiced on Riviera's cozy putting green after the
first round of last week's Nissan Open, Brandel Chamblee sidled
over to Tiger Woods. Chamblee told Woods that the week before,
he had been approached by a man who claimed to specialize in the
mental aspects of golf. "I teach the stuff that Tiger does," the
man bragged. Chamblee replied that he already had a coach, "But
if you can teach me to hit it 350 yards dead straight, like
Tiger, you can have an hour with me right now."
When Woods heard the story, he didn't even chuckle. "You mean
the guy teaches you how to cuss yourself out and tell yourself
you suck?" he said. "I was thinking about quitting out there
today and selling used cars."
Startled, Chamblee left Woods to his thoughts. "We've all had
that feeling, but I was surprised that he ever had it," Chamblee
said. "I figured Tiger must've shot a 73 or something. I looked
in the paper the next morning, and he had shot 68! I was like,
Wow, 68 and he's ready to quit."
That, it turned out, was one of the major themes in Los Angeles:
Great expectations lead to great disappointments. Mighty Riviera
was supposed to produce another great champion. Instead, it
produced a great Cinderella story. Add Kirk Triplett, a
37-year-old journeyman who had never won in 10 years on Tour, to
a storied list of winners that includes Ben Hogan, Sam Snead,
Byron Nelson, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson. As champions go
Triplett proved worthy. His four-under-par 67 on Sunday was the
second-best round of the day (Loren Roberts had a 66), and it
ended with a memorable up-and-down for par at the 18th, where he
made a dicey four-footer that had a decade's worth of self-doubt
rolling with it. If Triplett had missed, he would've gone into
overtime with Jesper Parnevik, the eccentric Swede with the
flipped-up brim and, on Sunday, pink bell-bottom slacks. "He
looked like the Pepto-Bismol man," said Triplett, whose idea of
cutting-edge fashion is a bucket hat. "That was good because I
was queasy, and when I looked over at him, I smoothed right out."
Parnevik had drained a stunning 30-footer for birdie on the
final hole. "I guarantee you that's the longest putt ever made
on the 18th green by a guy in pink pants," said Chamblee, who
began the final round a stroke off the lead but shot a 72 and
tied for 10th. "You've got to have a lot of game to play in pink
The Nissan was supposed to be a shootout among the biggest names
in the game because a star-studded cast was on hand to tune up
for this week's Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship,
just down the San Diego Freeway at La Costa Resort and Spa.
Instead the tournament looked more like a tune-up for the Tucson
Open, the B-flight alternative that will also be held this week,
because the star-crossed leader board was filled with the likes
of Greg Chalmers, Russ Cochran, Jeff and Robin Freeman, J.P.
Hayes, Tom Scherrer and David Sutherland.
Where were all the stars? Pardon us while we check in the kikuyu
grass. Woods finished 18th, seven shots behind Triplett, and
struggled with his putter all week. Last Saturday on the
420-yard, par-4 13th, he four-putted from 12 feet for a double
bogey. He had taken 6 on the same hole the day before for his
first double in 241 holes, or since his victory at the World
Stroke Play in November at Valderrama. Most players count the
hours between their double bogeys. Woods checks a calendar.
If he had parred the 13th twice, he would've been ahead by a
stroke going into Sunday, and we know what happens when he gets
the lead. His frustration was evident after his 69 on Saturday.
"Other than the four-putt and the three-putt, a whole bunch of
missed putts, a couple of bad chips and a couple of bad drives,
I did all right," he said.
Riviera's challenged greens, while improving, still suffer from
budding poa annua and were as smooth as a frozen pizza. Parnevik
would have won the tournament had he not four-putted the 4th
green on Saturday, but that was still better than Nick Faldo. He
five-putted the 11th on Thursday, making a 9, and missed the cut.
Other marquee players? David Duval, the second-ranked golfer in
the world, returned refreshed from a week of snowboarding in
Idaho, and was paired with Woods in the final round for the
first time, but he laid an egg with a 74 to Woods's 72 and came
in 31st. Tom Lehman and Justin Leonard didn't even make it to
the weekend. As for the European contingent, Sergio Garcia,
Colin Montgomerie and Masters champ Jose Maria Olazabal took a
Pasadena. Lee Westwood came down with the flu, barely made it to
the clubhouse after the first round and withdrew. British Open
winner Paul Lawrie missed the cut, as did Darren Clarke, who
lost two shots because he wasn't familiar with Tour rules. The
lift-clean-and-place rule was in effect on Thursday, when Clarke
pushed his drive on the 2nd hole onto a parallel fairway. He
then cleaned his ball, as is allowed in Europe but not in the
U.S., where the ball can be touched only if it is in the correct
fairway. Clarke didn't learn of his error until he was about to
sign his scorecard, and the two-shot penalty turned his
double-bogey 6 into an unhappy 8.
Speaking of letdowns, the Tour's West Coast swing could be
headed for one, not that there was any place to go but down
after Woods's spectacular winning streak ended two weeks ago.
The sleepy battle of the network nonstars at Riviera was to be
followed by the $5 million Match Play, made up of the world's
top 64 players. Unfortunately, 48 of them will be gone by
Thursday evening. Remember, too, that last year's final four was
composed of John Huston, Andrew Magee, Jeff Maggert and Steve
Pate, four guys you would recognize in a restaurant only if you
watch the Golf Channel.
For purists the Match Play is entertaining precisely because of
its unpredictability. Nonetheless, there's something
unsatisfying about a tournament that has only eight golfers
playing on the weekend. "The tournament is really big for the
public," says Dennis Paulson, who was to face Montgomerie, the
No. 3 seed, in Wednesday's first round. "It's like the NCAA
tournament, with office pools and gambling. But for the players
it's just a big-money event. If we played for $2.5 million, no
one would go."
Nick Price made a rare visit to Riviera to get acclimated for
the Match Play. Normally he would be playing somewhere else in
the world this time of year, but he'll be at La Costa because of
the purse. "You can make your whole year by winning [a World
tour event]," he says. The tournament reminds Mark Calcavecchia
of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. "You're just
kind of bumping along until you get near the end," he says.
"Then it starts to get interesting. Being sharp has nothing to
do with it. Last year I was four under and lost [2 and 1, in the
first round] to Carlos Franco. He had six birdies through 17
holes and it was, See ya."
Says Sutherland, who came in 12th in L.A. but wasn't high enough
in the World Ranking to make the field in La Costa and will play
Tucson instead, "The Match Play isn't like a major. The guy who
wins in Tucson is going to be happier than most of the field at
La Costa." True enough, but he won't be much richer. The winner
in Tucson gets $540,000. The runner-up at La Costa makes almost
as much ($500,000), and just reaching the semis is worth a
minimum of $300,000.
In a perfect world that guy Sutherland was talking about would
be Triplett. By tying for fifth two weeks ago in San Diego, the
last qualifying event, he jumped to 66th in the World Ranking,
missing the Match Play by .10 of a point. His win in L.A. moved
him up to 29th--good enough to get into the Masters--and he
planned to play Tucson, which is one of his favorite Tour spots.
His wife, Cathi, and their twin sons, Conor and Samuel, will be
there, too. They stayed home in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week,
which is a rarity, and missed Sunday's big occasion. "If I play
25 events, my wife's here for 23," said Triplett. Cathi and the
twins don't normally make the trip to Riviera because Kirk stays
at a friend's house near the course that he says "isn't
conducive to having two four-year-olds playing tackle football
Still, Triplett gave the folks back home a little show when,
after making the winning putt, he thrust his right arm high into
the air. The gesture was a departure in style for a player who
usually keeps his emotions to himself. "My wife is always giving
me a hard time, telling me I never do a fist pump or anything,"
Triplett says. "It just happened. Now I know what Tiger is
talking about when he says he doesn't even know he's doing it.
You've got a lot of emotion building up, and when the last putt
goes in, the emotion comes out. I'm just glad I didn't break any
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY J.D. CUBAN
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK "The 30-footer by Parnevik was "the longest putt ever made on the 18th green by a guy in pink pants," said Chamblee.