Winning TPC gains a dark side

Last 3 champions have fallen into golfing oblivion

May 12, 2011|By Jeff Shain

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Maybe the legend of the Masters Par-3 Jinx is overblown.

It's as much a part of Augusta National's lore as the Eisenhower Tree and pimento-cheese sandwiches: No man has won the Masters after capturing the Par-3 Contest four days earlier. Some guys have rinsed a ball at No. 9 just to avoid the burden.

But the real curse might be found at The Players Championship.

Winning the Masters Par-3 simply jeopardizes one's chance of winning a green jacket. Prevailing at The Players just might endanger his career.

The last three winners — Sergio Garcia (2008), Henrik Stenson (2009) and defending champion Tim Clark — still list the "fifth major" as their most recent victory.

"Maybe it's the psychological turmoil of playing a Pete Dye golf course," NBC analyst Johnny Miller offered.

Hey, nobody said the TPC Sawgrass was easy. But this is no mere bad stretch — check the way these guys have fallen off the radar.

Garcia reached as high as No. 2 in the world rankings within months of his triumph — followed by a 20-month slide that produced just one top-10 finish before he took a sabbatical last fall.

Stenson placed in the top 15 in all three 2009 majors after The Players, two more than his 2010-11 season totals. Now he's fortunate to break 75 and has missed his last three cuts with scores of 83, 79 and 76.

Clark at least has an excuse for his disappearance. An injured right elbow has limited him to one start since January. Then again, nobody seems to know what caused it.

"I don't think we're ever going to pinpoint what happened," Clark said.

Fresh off a runner-up finish in Hawaii, Clark spent a day back at his Arizona home and planned to fly out the Bob Hope Classic.

"And I woke up on Tuesday morning and my arm was just killing me," he said. "I thought I had slept with it off the bed or hyperextended it somehow. Then I kind of thought maybe in the airport I lifted up a bag."

Who knows? He has teed it up once since — missing the Masters cut with a pair of 73s. It took a month for the pain to subside again. He started hitting balls again only last Saturday.

Hey, Sawgrass has seen weird things since its arrival.

Jerry Pate threw Dye and then-PGA Commissioner Deane Beman into the pond behind No. 18 after his 1982 triumph. A fan cannonballed into the water behind No. 17 in 1987, causing Jeff Sluman to back off a 4-foot birdie putt. Sluman then missed the putt that would have won his playoff with Sandy Lyle. Craig Perks chipped in twice in his final three holes to win in 2002.

This one, though, seems to have a dark side. It's almost enough to prompt a Sunday leader to pump a shot into the drink at No. 17.

Almost. We think.

jshain@tribune.com

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