Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Funny, but it wasn’t until Bob Burns was on his way out of Las Vegas Oct. 11 that he decided to roll the dice. Stunned that he had made 19 birdies in three days yet missed the cut and faced yet another lost weekend in his quest to tie up his PGA Tour card for 2003, he grew bold in his moment of ire.
He swallowed hard and took a swing for the fences.
“I’m going to win next week,” the journeyman with – count ’em – absolutely zero previous PGA Tour victories proclaimed to his caddie, Dick “The Judge” Christy.
“Totally out of character for Bob,” the veteran caddie said nine days later, just as Burns made one last stroll across the 18th green at Disney World’s Magnolia course, this time to pick up his $666,000 winner’s check Oct. 20 at the Disney World Golf Classic. Burns, admittedly not a“go-low” specialist at the Tour’s numerous birdie festivals, shot 25-under 263, one shot off the tournament mark, to become the Tour’s 16th first-time champion in 2002.
Smiling, Christy added, “I guess he must have known something.”
For Burns, victory at Disney – where a closing 65 allowed him to pass 54-hole leader Chris DiMarco and hold off a hard-charging Tiger Woods (who moments earlier had missed from 6 feet at 18 to shoot 63) – means bidding bye-bye to the proverbial Top 125 bubble, where he has spent his entire PGA Tour existence. Burns, who was Mr. 125 two years ago and finished 135th last year, earning yet another ticket to Q-School, began his week at No. 118 in earnings, and left any thoughts of another Q-School in some far-away corner of the Magic Kingdom.
Maybe Burns ought to act like Babe Ruth and confidently point toward the bleachers more often.
“In Vegas, I felt my game was right there, and I was pissed off that I missed and I wasn’t going to get to play anymore,” he said. “I said right there, I’m going to win next week. Maybe that’s a routine I should get into. I couldn’t wait until Thursday arrived.
“I think I learned a lot about myself doing what I did this week. Maybe I can continue to excel that way. I think it’s just a frame of mind you have to get yourself into . . . it’s a mindset to really achieve out here, and it might be good for me.”
Not since the 1998 Buy.com Tour Championship could Burns remember a tournament where he pulled into the parking lot early in the week so confident he’d contend. Back then, there was pressure to earn a card (he was 14th on the money list, and the top 15 earned PGA Tour cards), but nothing quite like the pressure of being in the hunt on Sunday on the big Tour, especially with the likes of Tiger Woods in the chase.
So, acting on the advice of his caddie, Burns, who began the final round two shots behind DiMarco, decided to keep his head down and not look up at a leaderboard until he reached 24 under (6 under for his round). By then, the lead was his, and another birdie at the par-5 14th put him on top by two shots.
Give Woods credit, for he came out of nowhere Sunday to stir up some drama. Starting the day six shots out of the lead, he blistered the front nine in 5-under 31, and easily could have been three shots lower, missing one 8-foot birdie putt and narrowly missing eagle putts on two par-5 holes. He reached 8 under for his round when a 35-footer from the fringe crashed into the hole at 14. And when he knocked a 9-iron to 2 feet at No. 17 to go 9 under, a 10th birdie – and 62 – seemed inevitable.
Woods did the hard work, crushing a 3-wood off the tee and hitting a 7-iron to 6 feet, but then pulled the putt – the first small crack in his armor all day.
“I didn’t hit it all that great today,” Woods said, “but I really putted well. And the putts I had to make I buried, except for the last hole. When you start rolling like this, it can be awfully fun. I don’t normally fire at this many flags in one round.”
DiMarco, playing 40 minutes from his home, had control of the tournament most of the week, especially after opening 64-63. He had a chance to cut the deficit to one at the par-4 17th Sunday, but missed his 5-foot birdie putt. A final birdie at 18 proved beneficial financially (worth an extra $74,000 for solo second), but one short of Burns.
“Twenty-four under is not bad for four days,” DiMarco said. “What are you going to do?”
If you’re Bob Burns, you savor the taste of victory and hope it arrives again. Soon.
“It’s a great feeling,” Burns said. “I think I’ll want to do this again.”