2006: Stephen gets even
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Some golfers are defined by two numbers. Byron Nelson, 18 and 11. Jack Nicklaus, ’86 and 18. Tiger Woods, a fluid 48 and 10. Jean Van de Velde, 7 and fore.
Stephen Ames has been known recently for a couple of digits himself. Phonetically they sound like the German word for no and a verb for food consumption.
Nine and eight.
Tiger Woods impaled Ames with that improbable score in the WGC-Accenture Match Play tournament in late February. Woods was uber hot, and Ames was mouthy and rusty. Long story short, Ames marveled pre-tournament that Woods was winning despite crooked drives. Not only that, six years earlier, he had called Woods spoiled and aloof. Bottom line, the World No. 1 took umbrage. And in Woods’ hands, umbrage can be an assault weapon.
Such a whipping could have a lasting effect on a player’s psyche. That kind of rout can shake someone’s athletic manhood. You lose 9 and 8, you wonder.
Ames apparently didn’t wonder. He forgot.
“I put it aside right away,” he said. Later, he added, “What was I supposed to do, sit down and cry about it?”
It’s one thing to keep yourself out of a potentially deep mental abyss. It’s another to spring high off the canvas a month later to win golf’s richest purse against the game’s best field on the PGA Tour’s most torturous track.
Admirably, Ames did all that. So now he has some kinder numbers with which to define himself.
1.44 million. As in dollars.
Six. As in margin of victory.
Eleven. As in the number of holes he won outright Sunday against his playing partner, world No. 2 Vijay Singh.
Fifteen. Number of strokes by which he defeated Woods.
Ames beat some serious odds to do what he did. For starters, he’s from Trinidad and Tobago and lives in Calgary. That’s not the usual path to St. Augustine and the World Golf Hall of Fame. His homeland has only a handful of 18-hole courses, and his Canadian hometown has about a three-week golf season.
You might say Ames was a surprise winner, because of his slow 2006 start and because he was challenged to varying degrees by the pedigreed Singh, Retief Goosen, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Sergio Garcia. But Ames would’ve won here four years ago had Craig Perks not holed everything on the last three holes. The firm, fast and high-roughed Stadium Course suits not only Ames’ fairways-and-greens game (he tied for first in both statistical categories), it fits his eye. Ames sees shapes of shots, not swing mechanics. And he fares better on courses that favor shotmakers over bombers.
I don’t know Ames’ mental coach, Alan Fine, from Larry Fine. But apparently he knows a thing or two about preparing an athlete. Before The Players, Ames worked several hours with Fine, author of “Mind Over Golf: How to Achieve Peak Performance.” Among other things, Fine basically told Ames to stop thinking.
Ames stayed steady while so many other contenders double-bogeyed their way off the leaderboard. You want a logo for the 2006 Players, try a train wreck. Players didn’t trickle off the board, they fell freely.
Davis Love III went from first to finished on Friday. Adam Scott went from second place to 11 over after 11 on Saturday. Arron Oberholser was leading after 52 holes, then found a few watery graves while playing the final 20 in 14-over. Talk about skydiving out of contention without a parachute: Singh closed with 77, Garcia 78 and Mike Weir 79.
Top names self-destructed around Ames as if Woods’ name were at the top of the board. You witness that kind of rapid rewind, you understand better why Woods has won 10 majors.
Tough, U.S. Open-like setup or not, all of the top five in the world finished 22nd or better. One more time: The Players is not a major. But this one had the feel of one on several fronts: field, marquee leaderboard, course and drama. This one was nothing if not entertaining.
As at Bay Hill the previous week, we finally saw players get penalized for hitting into rough. It was nice to see accuracy matter for a change. We saw stars reduced to humans, and that makes for the best kind of reality television.
The Players might not identify the game’s best player, for the so-called Big Five have won only one TPC compared with 20 majors. More and more it seems to identify the player whose game suits a TPC course with high, thick rough. The last two winners, and three of the last seven, have hit the most fairways.
Goosen, a two-time Open winner, called it a “great setup.” However, Woods, who also likes difficult courses, dissented.
“It’s not meant to be played that way,” said Woods, who has hit less than 50 percent of the fairways in each of his last three Tour victories. “It’s supposed to be hard and fast but where the palmetto bushes come in play. . . . Six- to 8-inch rough, I don’t think that’s the right combo. I don’t think that’s what (architect) Pete (Dye) had in mind.”
Perhaps, but the original intent has nothing to do with today’s equipment and power. When Dye’s gem opened a quarter century ago, no one foresaw players launching straighter balls 360 yards with big-headed drivers made out of space-age materials.
That development was as surprising as free-thinker Ames saying he’d rather go on a planned, two-week vacation in Trinidad & Tobago with his wife and kids than play in the upcoming Masters. He said he might not cut short the kids’ spring break so they could go see dad in yet another golf tournament.
Family priorities are important. So is the Masters. So it might be sensible to spend one week in the West Indies and the next in east Georgia. Besides, when it comes to Tour vacations, it’s called November and December. With October on the way next year.