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Sunday - Another Coronation for Tiger

By: Jay Flemma


Editor's Note: Cybergolf's Jay Flemma returns to Tulsa to watch Tiger Woods successful quest for his 13th major title at the PGA Championship in Tulsa. He also takes a peek at one Woody Austin, the unheralded journeyman golf pro who made things interesting on Sunday.

Other than Woods' 69, which gave him a three-shot lead over Stephen Ames of Trinidad and Tobago, the only other person who made headlines Saturday was Boo Weekley. The good news is he shot a 65. The bad news is he adds poorly. As he said himself, "I was never good at math," but you'd think he could get to five, even using his fingers and toes. Boo, keeping playing partner Sergio Garcia's score, gave him a 4 on the 17th hole, not the 5 Garcia actually got. For whatever reason, Garcia failed to catch the error himself. The Spaniard was subsequently disqualified for signing a card that had a score less than what he actually carded. That's a ghastly error.

It would take ghastly errors on Woods' part to blow a three-shot lead on Sunday and that has never happened. He was a perfect 12 for 12 as he arrived at the course. With three birdies on the first eight holes, it looked like the rout was on. The lead was a massive five shots and Woods looked as impregnable as ever.

Then something funny happened on the way to the winner's circle. First, as Woods leapt into the air to celebrate his birdie at eight and a five-shot margin, he landed awkwardly, his foot coming down on a slope. TV overplayed it, fearing he was injured. Woods downplayed it, saying it was nothing, but whatever it was for real, and Woody Austin and Ernie Els started their charges at exactly the same time. Tiger may be a great golfer, but he's not Fred Astaire and he'd do well not to reprise his little Twinkle Toes moment because had he actually hurt himself a la Martin Grammatica, it would have been worse than embarrassing.

Further, Els and Austin decided that if they were going down, they were going down swinging hard and dug deep for courage and fortitude. Tiger bogeyed nine. Most thought it just a hiccup, although the TV broadcast was making it sound as though Woods' Lindy Hop moment was to blame.

Then Austin went on a three-birdie run right in Woods' face. As the last fell at the par-5 13th, he was only one stroke back. As the crowd screamed, finally awakening for another player, Austin pulled on his ear, trying to rouse them into further exaltation. While it actually looked more like a soccer mom reprimanding a fractious child, his spirited gesture sent a message.

Meanwhile, Els, silent this year until the British Open where he also charged on Sunday to a fourth-place finish, birdied 13 and 14. He was just two back. "He's been swinging better since the Memorial," noted the Golf Channel's Frank Nobilo in a short chat with Cybergolf. "He's got Josh [his swing coach] here and they've been working well all week. His putting was inconsistent, but he really did well in that stat this week." Els finished second in putting and was leading the field after three rounds. Els also had changed equipment to Callaway before the Masters and took several months to get comfortable. "It started to click at the Memorial," he told Cybergolf. The resurgence showed with his excellent finish at Carnoustie, one fatal triple-bogey aside.

On the other hand, Woods, usually lethal in the clutch, played the remainder of the round 1-over. Still not to be outdone, he did what champions do when challenged - he responded. As I have said in college - whether talking about a sport I played or a job I had to do - when there's no other option, you have to cope.

After his last bogey of the day at the 14th and seeing his lead dwindle to just one over Austin, "I just did some serious yelling at myself going up to the 15th tee." It worked.

Few people know that when Phil Mickelson was practicing at Winged Foot for the 2006 U.S. Open, where he authored one of the game's greatest tragedies and morality plays, he would close each and every day by playing 15-16-17-and-18, all par-4s. "I wanted to make four pars because I knew winning the title could depend on that."

That was prophetic.

Anyway, once again, Woods did what Phil could not. He played the four closing holes, also all par-4s, in 1-under. "I just kept telling myself Ernie and Woody were making runs, but I still had the lead and if I made pars they would have to come get me. If they made a birdie to tie, I could birdie the same hole and I'd have the lead again." Woods' birdie at 14 re-established his two-shot cushion and gave him the comfort zone to coast home. Woods hit his last four fairways and greens of the tournament to close with precision. It was the hallmark of a true champion. True grit in the clutch, self-reliance, diligence, courage and fortitude; he can do it on command. Maybe he does set a life example when he plays.

There was so much more wisdom to take from the event as well though, provided by player and pundit alike: Art Spander's search for the perfect words, Marino Parascenzo and the Irish crew's camaraderie, the fire of Padraig Harrington, the diligence of Els, the fearless spirit of Austin, the drive of Woods, the kindness of Ben Curtis.

Golf certainly does mirror life and offers the most accurate view into a man's soul - angel or devil, prince or pauper, octogenarian or toddler. That's what to take from this tournament and any other, not merely "Tiger Woods won again," although he once again gave us an enduring masterpiece too. Yet the game and its life lessons overshadow any and every player, whatever their accomplishments.

Speaking of masterpieces, as we glided in for a landing in New York City, a singular sight graced my eyes, providing the ultimate capstone to a memorable, historic weekend. From the window of my puddle-jumper, I saw the curvature of the Earth in all its majesty and grandeur and on the horizon, a ruby-red sun, blazing with clear, absolutely prismatic light. It burned fiercely before winking under the horizon, leaving a spectrum of color in its wake, leaving me to reflect on touchdown at LaGuardia and - 40 minutes later - a table at Sarabella's Ristorante in Forest Hills within touching distance of "Dan and Dave" plinking and plunking their way through Charlie Parker's "Ornithology" and a glass of 10-year-old tawny and a dish of penne arrabiata.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.