2006: A clean car and a lot of class

Englishman Greg Owen noticed something a little different at The Players Championship last week. Like he was being recognized – a lot – far more than he ever had been recognized here in the United States.

“I just wish it was for something else,” he said.

Owen’s new “identity” is a result of being the 71st-hole leader who fell on the champion’s sword at Bay Hill a week earlier, where he took three putts from 40 inches on Sunday, rushing his second putt, a little 18-inch tiddler that horseshoed completely around the cup.

But he picked himself up by the bootstraps, and was absolutely floored by the support his fellow tour pros showed him. Tiger Woods and Fred Couples were among those who approached Owen during the week – not to say they were sorry, but to extend a heartfelt “Well played” in salute to Owen’s performance at the King’s Place.

Following his now famous, Van de Veldian gaffe, he watched the replay exactly one time – that was plenty – went to bed at 11:30, and 30 minutes later found himself roaming aimlessly around his neighborhood outside Orlando. He got about 21⁄2 hours of sleep in all before he finally gave in and ventured outside to wash his car at 5:30 a.m.

“It needed washing,” Owen, shrugging, told the Forecaddie.

Owen made a lot of fans with the class he has shown through his ordeal, and he rebounded with a solid T-22 at the Players, though he needed to play a little better to crack the world top 50 and collect a coveted Masters invite.

“When you’re driven, like golfers are, it’s hard to have compassion for yourself,” said sports psychologist Bob Rotella, who had lengthy talks with Owen last week. “But you have to have compassion in order to forgive and forget, so you can free it up and ‘let go’ next time. I told him, ‘Anybody can bury themselves. The key is, can you let it go?’ ”

It appears he can.

“If that’s the worst that’s going to happen to me in my life,” said Owen, who worked four years behind a pro shop counter, “I can take that.”

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