Wilson, Gainey are Phoenix Open “winners”
The first signs of trouble for the Waste Management Phoenix Open came when the weather forecast called for temperatures in the 20s with highs in the low 50s – the coldest temps in 25 years at the TPC Scottsdale. Then Wednesday’s pro-am was canceled by frost on the greens and frigid temperatures. How many of the 100 or so entry fees were actually returned was never made public.
But at $9,500 per player, it could have been upwards of $1 million if everybody wanted their money back. If that wasn’t enough of a blow to the “Greenest Show on Grass,’’ the first and second rounds of the tournament experienced never-before-seen frost delays totaling 4 hours and 3 hours, respectively. Hey, according to the PGA, the ground under the greens was frozen solid and to make matters worse, the tundra wouldn’t thaw out. Along with those delays came cold and winds that kept the crowds down significantly for the first three days. Ultimately, 365,062 fans braved the elements for the week, the smallest number since 1993. If that wasn’t enough, it marked the third straight year that attendance declined from a record of 538,356 in 2008 putting charity donations in jeopardy.
All the crummy weather and delays – and bad news — also added up to nonstop play and a sense of wonderment — “What’s going on here?” — for Saturday and Sunday, creating continuous action that was hard to figure out and follow on the leader board. That’s because Thursday’s opening round ended Saturday morning, Friday’s second round ended Saturday night, when the cut was finally made. The third round was played Sunday morning, and they never re-paired for the final 18 holes, as the leaders came back Monday with six holes still to play.
When the “tournament that would not end’’ finally drew to a conclusion at about 11:30 a.m. Monday, the mild-mannered Mark Wilson – the best putter left standing — was your winner. But not before the journeyman from Chicago via Wisconsin – yeah, a cheesehead who loves the world champion Packers — had beaten another somewhat unheralded player, Jason Dufner, with a birdie on the second hole of sudden death.
The finish was almost as bizarre as the week, as the guy who had led the tournament through 66 holes, including after rounds 1, 2 and 3, Tommy “Two Gloves’’ Gainey, imploded at the always dicey 17th hole with two shots into the water that were as hard to watch for his new-found followers as “Two Gloves” himself.
Say this about Gainey, who has become the “new Boo’’ of professional golf: He tells it like it is. Asked about his play over the first three rounds, the country bumpkin from Bishopville, S.C., said what many had felt for the entire week. “All the days just seem to keep fallin’ together,’’ Gainey observed. “I don’t even know what day it is myself!’’
A very un-Phoenix Open-like 13,300 fans showed up for the last six holes on Monday, which had a bit of a playoff feel to them right from the get-go – or even before it actually went to a playoff. All Wilson, who entered the final day two shots in front of Gainey, Dufner and Vijay Singh, had to do was par the last seven and make an eight-foot birdie at the second playoff hole (No. 10) to win for the second time in three outings this season.
Wilson, who did post all four rounds in the 60s including a final-round 69 (the first player to do so since J.B. Holmes in 2006), pushed his season winnings to over $2 million with his winning total of 18-under 266. But if you had been watching from the very beginning, the real story was Gainey, who earned just $164,700 after his meltdown dropped him into a tie for eighth place – a mistake that cost him at least $250,000.
As for Two Gloves’ decision to go with his driver rather than a fairway wood at the 300-yard 17th, you really couldn’t blame him. Hey, he hadn’t come all the way from “Minitour City’’ in the early 2000s, the “Big Break’’ in 2005 and then the Nationwide Tour in 2010, just to lay-up here, what with opportunity knocking.
But after Gainey overcooked the drive, which hit a hazard stake and bounded back into the drink on the left side of the short par 4, he should have tried something different (like putting) rather than trying to chip his third shot off a steep bank, a disastrous move that caused the ball to pop up into the air, catch the bank and slide back into the water. When the carnage was over, his scorecard read “7.’’
If he wasn’t thinking quite clearly, well, you really can’t blame that on “Two Gloves.’’ After all these were uncharted waters for Gainey, who had never led a PGA event in any round let alone three in a row.
“I played good. I was in contention. I had a shot to win the tournament,’’ noted the 35-year-old Gainey, who ended up with a disappointing 74, or four shots out of the playoff.
“To get a bad break like I got at 17 — a drop on the side hill — I was worried about the ball rolling back in the water instead of trying to hit the shot. I probably hit it a little too quick. I didn’t take my time. . . . ’’
Yes, things were going out of control, at least in Two Gloves’ head. But give him credit for trying to find the positive in all the negative that seemed to hang over the ending like a big, dark cloud.
“Next time it’ll be a little different story,’’ promised Gainey. “I’m a little pissed, but you’ve got to win with class and you’ve got to lose with class, so I’m trying to deal with that right now.’’
Chances are most who ventured out to the TPC Scottsdale last week will remember this tournament as the one Tommy “Two Gloves’’ lost rather than the one Mr. Wilson won. That, and the tournament having the worst weather at the TPC Scottsdale in the 25 years it’s been played there — and maybe (hopefully) forever. That’s no knock on Wilson or the Phoenix Open or the TPC, mind you. It’s just the way it works in the fickle world we call golf.