Leading and Bleeding

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Playing with the lead these days on the PGA Tour is getting to be like playing with fire. Sleeping with the lead on Saturday nights is getting to be like sleeping with the enemy.

Sergio Garcia was ahead by a bunch Saturday night at the Wachovia Championship. Then he woke up Sunday, shot an even par 72 and lost in a playoff to Vijay Singh.

'They say you learn more from your losses than your wins,' a gracious Garcia said when it was over.

Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia played an emotional round Sunday but went home disappointed.
>If that's the case, there must be a lot of very smart touring pros right now. Singh would be one of them. Yes, he has now won three times this year. But he squandered a 54-hole lead at the Mercedes Championships, shot 74 on Sunday and lost to Stuart Appleby. He bounced back with a victory the very next week at The Sony Open when third round leader Shigeki Maruyama carded a tepid Sunday 71 and tied for third.

'Coming down the stretch,' Garcia said at Wachovia, 'it's not easy to hit perfect shots.'

Just ask Scott McCarron......Or Chris DiMarco.

McCarron led after three rounds at the BellSouth Classic only to balloon to a final round 76 and drop all the way down to a tie for 32d.

DiMarco slept on the lead Saturday night at Augusta even though the third round hadn't been completed. And he struggled immediately Sunday morning before losing valiantly to Tiger Woods in a playoff late in the day.

In his first event after Augusta, DiMarco led after 54 holes at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. But a Sunday 72 by DiMarco gave Tim Petrovic the opening he needed to win in a playoff.

'I felt like every time I missed a shot, I was struggling to make par,' Garcia said Sunday.

Tom Lehman, the 54-hole leader at the Buick Invitational before losing to Woods, knows of what Garcia speaks.

So does Joe Ogilvie, the Saturday night leader at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic where Justin Leonard tracked him down.

Others with similarly presumed learned lessons this season include Brian Davis at the Nissan Open, Kevin Na at the Chrysler Classic of Tucson, Phil Mickelson at the Ford Championship at Doral, Brett Wetterich and Geoff Ogilvy at The Honda Classic, and Luke Donald at The Players Championship.

You may remember Darren Clarke's Sunday collapse at the MCI Heritage. Even though Clarke had a large lead early Sunday, eventual winner Peter Lonard was actually the 54-hole leader. Lonard stumbled to a final round 75 and won mostly because Clarke was sinking to 76.

'One of those things,' Garcia said Sunday, referring to himself.

But he could have been speaking to all the players on the PGA Tour this year who have had so much trouble closing the deal. This, of course, is nothing new in golf. But what seems to be new is the epidemic proportions.

Is it the money that causes the pressure that causes the failures? Or is it the nature of the human condition in golf that it is much harder to 'protect' than it is to 'strive'?

For certain, golf is not a game generally played well when you are thinking about what you have to lose. Yet any player will tell you he'd much rather have a six-shot lead after 54 holes than a six-shot deficit.

But make one double bogey early Sunday and watch your playing partner make a couple of birdies and a two-shot lead can actually 'feel' like you're behind.

It's not easy to play golf. It's even harder to play golf well. Playing golf well enough to win at the game's highest level is an almost infinite step up in class. Playing with the lead at that level these days appears to be excruciating.
 
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