ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – A stone-faced crowd filed off property with all the excitement of a University of Georgia fan following a particularly painful Bulldog loss, or an American gallery after a Ryder Cup defeat. Pick a Ryder Cup, any one will do considering the red, white and blue have only one victory this century.
As Davis Love III has joked many times this week, “Blame it on the captain.”
In fairness, Love will shoulder the blame for America’s loss last month at Medinah. He has to, it’s a leadership deal. But that is little more than misdirected anger. This, however, was something else. This was Love’s to win, or Jim Furyk depending on which reclamation project tugged enough on the heart strings.
The duo began the day two strokes clear of the field. Seventy-one players survived a secondary cut on Saturday, but Sunday was a two-man race, or so one could have been forgiven for thinking.
But things haven’t gone to plan for either player this season. After the month Love and Furyk have had, the only thing missing on Sunday at Sea Island Resort was a hot-putting German and echoes of “Ole, Ole, Ole.”
Instead, Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey – who set out on Sunday 2 hours, 25 minutes before and seven strokes adrift of the leaders – played the role of Martin Kaymer, scorching the Seaside Course with a 10-under 60 that included a missed 15 footer at the last for 59. And then he waited.
He waited as the winds along the Brunswick River came up. He waited as Furyk and Love squandered birdie opportunities. He waited as David Toms slowly ran out of holes. He waited 104 Tour starts to notch his first victory, however surreal and subdued it may be.
The Sea Island crowds wanted a victory for Love, the tournament host and island staple. Those with a sense of cosmic justice were likely leaning toward Furyk, who led the U.S. Open through 69 holes, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational through 71 holes, and his pivotal Sunday singles match against Sergio Garcia through 16 holes only to drop all three decisions.
But as day turned to dusk on a clear fall day Gainey’s wait became more interesting.
Love three-putted the 14th hole to drop to 13 under, three behind Gainey, and pulled his drive into the hazard at No. 16 for a double bogey-6 to end the Cinderella scenario.
For Furyk the end came more slowly, missing a 20 footer for birdie at the 16th to remain one back, and the greens at Nos. 16 and 17. As the late Seve Ballesteros may have opined, “I miss, I miss, I miss, I lose.”
“What I’m most disappointed about is when it came down the stretch,” said Furyk, who closed with a 69 to finish alone in third place a stroke behind Toms (63) and two behind Gainey. “Hitting the ball pretty much as good as I can I made really, really poor swings at 17 and 18 with a 7-iron and 8-iron.”
Gainey is familiar with disappointment. The quintessential journeyman began plying the mini-tours in 1995, was forced back into the game after being laid off from AO Smith, where he installed insulation on water heaters, and missed more cuts in 2011 (17) than some Tour types play in a season.
The largest comeback on Tour this year was Kyle Stanley’s eight-stroke rally in Phoenix, but somehow Gainey’s come-from-behind finish from a touchdown back seemed more compelling.
Maybe it was his attempt to become the sixth Tour player to post 59 in an official event, a thought he said that never crossed his mind, or the cast of characters that spent an excruciatingly long afternoon chasing him.
“I was nervous,” said Gainey, who spent most of the two hours after he finished his round answering text messages and watching the telecast. “When you’ve got Davis Love III, Jim Furyk and David Toms coming at you, you may want to pay attention.
“You’ve got Hall of Famers, future Hall of Famers chasing me . . . chasing me . . . I’m Tommy Gainey . . . Two Gloves.”
On this one maybe karma got it right. Sure Love and Furyk could have used a post-Ryder Cup boost, but for Gainey, who had earned more than half his money this year on Tour in one week (Crowne Plaza Invitational where he finished third), the McGladrey victory, his first on Tour, is a life changer.
The mini-tour legend turned folk hero was still digesting that reality when Love, who finished tied for fourth after a closing 71, approached him before the trophy presentation.
Prior to this week, Gainey’s best Tour finish was a runner-up showing to Love at the 2008 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic when the rookie charged in with a closing 64.
“In ’08 that was (Love’s) 20th win and I’m playing well and he hit a tee shot at the 17th like he did today at the 16th, just a rope hook,” Gainey recalled. “But back then the ball stayed out of the hazard and he got up and down out of a bunker for par to beat me by one. He mentioned that to me and how odd it was that he was giving me the trophy.”
An odd ending indeed, for a tournament and a season.
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