Last Sunday's final round of the Wachovia Championship in
Charlotte was shaping up as something of a disappointment. Tiger
Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh all made runs up the leader
board but failed to seize the top spot. So instead of a highly
anticipated showdown among the game's biggest stars, we were left
with a playoff between Arron Oberholser and Joey Sindelar.
A 29-year-old in his second season on Tour, Oberholser was best
known for taking the lead into the final round of this year's
Pebble Beach Pro-Am and then imploding with a 76. Sindelar, 46,
is a 21-year pro who has hung on to his Tour card but hadn't won
since 1990. They were only in the playoff because, once again,
Oberholser could not hold a lead, giving up a two-shot edge over
the last three holes en route to a final-round 72 and an 11-under
277. Sindelar, meanwhile, birdied three of the last four holes in
regulation, then calmly sank a four-footer on the second extra
hole for the win.
It wasn't the prettiest victory, with no one in the last three
groups breaking par, but it was a popular one. Sindelar is one of
golf's good guys, tying for first (with Nick Price) in the Nicest
Guy category in SI's 2003 PGA Tour player survey. "I'm happy for
Joey," said Oberholser. "I don't know that there's a guy in the
locker room who has one bad word to say about him."
The win was also wildly popular in Horseheads, N.Y., the upstate
town of 20,000 where Sindelar lives year-round. "The phone has
been ringing off the hook," Sue Sindelar, Joey's wife of 23
years, said on Sunday night, "and at the end of the block someone
has hung a bunch of posters saying CONGRATULATIONS JOEY."
The victory was cool, Sue said, but also simply icing on the
cake. "Winning didn't matter to me. It was a nice bonus, but I'm
happy he has a job next year. Every year it's more of a struggle
to keep his card, and the pressure keeps getting worse. This year
it was getting to the point of being unbearable."
In response to the pressure Sindelar spent a lot of time this
off-season working on his chipping and putting. The extra effort
paid off, and now Sindelar has a two-year exemption and a ticket
into the invitational events, which means he can almost coast to
the Champions tour.
"For a 46-year-old, this means so much," said Sue. "Last year Jay
Haas was such a great example, and Joey loves Jay. It really gave
him hope and made him determined to keep playing well and go out
Oberholser versus Sindelar may not have been the showdown fans
were hoping for, but perhaps that doesn't matter. Sue's entire
family, as well as Joey's parents, had gathered to celebrate
Mother's Day and the 11th birthday of Joey and Sue's son Ryan.
Like his brother, 14-year-old Jamison, Ryan had never seen his
dad win. But there they were, gathered around the TV "screaming
and cheering and oh so very happy," said Sue.
Happy Mother's Day. Happy Birthday. Congratulations, Mr. Nice
Guy. How can you not love that?
COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH GOOD TIMING Sindelar's win at age 46 means he's set for the rest of his Tour career.
COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK (WOODS)
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES (PAK, OCHOA)
Tiger finished strong at Quail Hollow, but last Saturday's 75 was
telling. If he doesn't get his game straightened out soon, his
consecutive cut streak will be the next thing to go.
Up & Down
Race for No. 1
The shrinking gap between Tiger and Vijay has energized the PGA
Great field, great course and Woods in contention equals a 56%
increase in TV ratings.
Se Ri Pak
Only 26, she qualifies for the LPGA Hall of Fame with her 22nd
The oft-criticized ranking hasn't caught up to the obvious:
Tiger's not the best player right now.
The only player among the top six missing last week. Was he
ducking Joey Sindelar?
Billed as the Can't Miss Kid, so far she's the Just Missed Kid,
with 13 top 10s but no wins.