PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Here in the adopted hometown of golf’s glitterati, you can’t walk into a beachside bar without bumping into a top-50 player. They are an easily recognizable group, even when devoid of logoed caps and ironed slacks. Sock tans around the ankles and an encouraging entourage in tow are dead giveaways for these fellows with million-dollar smiles and much heftier bank accounts.
Driving their own classics instead of courtesy cars, these players rolled out of bed and descended upon PGA National this week for a tournament so star-studded that they could have called it the WGC-Honda Classic and no one would have batted an eye toward its ascendancy into the next echelon. The red carpet directly outside the player locker room is well worn, but still could have served as a Hollywood entrance as they arrived to begin the event.
But things stopped going according to form soon afterward, the stars failing to align once the competition started.
Rory McIlroy ducked out mid-round on Friday morning, his concentration affected by a sore wisdom tooth – or maybe the sore wisdom tooth was affected by his concentration. Either way, he likely learned a harsh lesson in the process: The tooth hurts.
Tiger Woods was undone by a performance that included four double bogeys, which was four greater than his number of rounds under par. The end result was a share of 37th place – four spots worse than his finish of a week earlier, when he lost in the opening round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Rickie Fowler made various leaderboard appearances throughout the tournament, but a seven-bogey output in his final round acquitted the orange-clad free-swinger of any right to fight for the title.
Lee Westwood similarly found prosperity at times, until finishing with five bogeys in his final 14 holes, relegating him to a share of ninth place that no doubt proved bothersome for his entire one-mile drive home Sunday evening.
These elite players, the ones whose likenesses graced the daily pairings sheet and whose galleries burgeoned with eager-to-please fans, were washed away one by one, like seashells along the nearby Atlantic Ocean shore, until only one remained.
When the tournament was finally completed, when the final putt dropped and “Sweet Home Alabama” started blaring from a nearby loudspeaker, it wasn’t one of these household names who was left clutching the shimmering trophy.
Instead, it was a player who entered this week with exactly one FedEx Cup point.
It was a player whose last start came at the Northern Trust Open and found him in dead last after two rounds.
It was a player who dined at Chipotle with his wife while holding a share of the 54-hole lead Saturday night and never got recognized.
It was a player who isn’t a no-name, but has enough of a common name that he can be easily confused for others.
It was Michael Thompson, a player who easily flew under the radar that had previously been so occupied by so many of the big names in the field.
“You know, everybody wants to see the marquee players, the guys who are exciting or wear the bright clothes and all that,” said Thompson, whose first PGA Tour win came in his 61st career start. “I've always kind of treated my golf game or kind of lived by the motto as, I'm going to let my clubs do the talking. If my clubs talk, and they are saying a lot of good stuff, then good things are going to happen to me.
“And so, you know, I don't think that's going to change. I'm not a flashy player. I'm not dramatic or anything like that. I just kind of plod along, make my pars, eliminate the big mistakes and make a few birdies here and there. If I keep doing that and I stick to that game plan, I'm going to have a great career.”
All of which leads to a head-scratching conundrum: Thompson was able to find success by letting others bask in the attention, but the more he continues playing like this, the more attention he’ll continue to steal away.
Not that he is on the verge of superstardom anytime soon. No, he’ll leave that to the locals, the household names with their own yachts and clothing companies and encouraging entourages in tow.
Thompson will let them have all of those riches as he steps out of the player locker room, right over the red carpet, clutching that glimmering trophy the entire time.
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