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Some tournaments lost rather than won

The hollow look in his eyes and numbness in his voice made it clear that Greg Owen was still in shock over his gaffe on the 17th green that cost him the Bay Hill Invitational.

But he was thinking clearly enough in the moments afterward to realize what it meant.

"It was one of those silly mistakes I'll be remembered for, you know?'' he said.

At least he has plenty of company.

Carnoustie used to be known as the toughest links in golf. Now the mere mention of the word brings back painful images of Jean Van de Velde throwing away the British Open with a combination of stupidity and bad luck.

Nick Faldo eventually got credit for one of the great closing rounds in Masters history when he shot 67, but conversation about 1996 at Augusta National always starts with the ignominious collapse of Greg Norman.

Those were majors. This was only the Bay Hill Invitational. That won't make it any easier for Owen.

He played better than anyone Sunday at Bay Hill, 6-under through 16 holes with a birdie from the bunker to take a one-shot lead over Rod Pampling. And when his 3-iron came up just short of the 17th, he still had a reasonable chip that he left 3 feet short of the flag.

Pampling lipped out his 10-footer for par, giving Owen a two-shot margin and only 40 inches left for par before heading to the 18th tee. Then came the meltdown. He shoved his first putt so badly that it didn't touch the cup. Wasting no time, he stood over the 2-foot putt and watched in horror as it horseshoed around the cup.

A two-shot lead became a tie.

His first PGA Tour victory -- and a trip to the Masters -- became a runner-up finish that will haunt him. Asked how he would cope with the loss, Owen replied, "I'll find out tonight, but it's not going to be easy.''

"I had it in my pocket. It was there. And I threw it away,'' Owen said. "So, we'll find out. Play again next week and see what happens there.''

That would be The Players Championship, a stage built for such memorable meltdowns. Owen should remember that he played well enough over 70 holes, a tee shot and a chip to give himself a chance to win. And a solid week at Sawgrass still might be enough to get him in the Masters.

Even then, he will be the guy who took three putts in seven seconds from 40 inches to lose Bay Hill.

"It's cruel,'' said Rod Pampling, the winner who spent most of his time apologizing. "But you know, it's golf.''

Mike Reid knows the feeling as well as anyone.

He had a two-shot lead in the 1989 PGA Championship against the late Payne Stewart when he hit into the water on the 16th and had to scramble for bogey. Then, he flubbed a chip behind the 17th green and missed a 15-foot par putt to fall into a tie for the lead.


Just like Owen, Reid bent over to tap in for bogey and watched it spin out of the cup for double-bogey, losing the lead and nearly losing his mind.

"It's only a game, right?'' Reid said that day, choking back tears. "Everyone can identify with failure out here.''

Van de Velde had a three-shot lead in the 1999 British Open and tried to finish with a flourish. He hit driver off the tee and got away with it when the ball found a tiny strip of grass. Instead of laying up short of Barry Burn, he boldly fired 2-iron toward the green, only to have the ball carom off a rail on the grandstand and into the burn.

He wound up with a triple bogey -- making a 6-footer for that -- before losing in a playoff.

"Maybe next time I'll hit the wedge,'' Van de Velde said. "And maybe you will all forgive me.''

Forgive? Sure.

Forget? Never.

Owen is 34, a tall Englishman with a sound game who will get another chance. But there is scar issue starting to build, starting with his three straight bogeys that cost him the final-round lead in Houston last year.

"It wasn't my day,'' he said Sunday at Bay Hill. "I'll have to wait for my day.''

Matt Gogel blew a seven-shot lead to Tiger Woods at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 2000, then won the tournament two years later when Pat Perez's temper reached mercurial proportions.

Frank Lickliter didn't have to wait that long for redemption. Remember his playoff loss in the 2001 Buick Invitational? Phil Mickelson hit his tee shot into a canyon on the 17th hole at Torrey Pines, and Lickliter inexplicably hit driver and wound up in the same gorge. And yes, it got worse. After reloading off the tee, Lickliter hit wedge into 12 feet and had that bogey putt to win. He ran it 4 feet by and missed the comebacker to lose.

"I'm in shock right now,'' Lickliter said. "Other than getting a little stupid, I felt I played pretty good.''

Four months later, he captured his first PGA Tour victory at the Kemper Open.

Owen can only hope that's what the future holds for him.

As for Pampling? He got the navy blazer and a silver sword from Arnold Palmer, and his picture in the clubhouse at the Bay Hill Lodge. That might have to do, because not many will remember who won the Bay Hill Invitational in 2006.

Only who lost it.

March 21, 2006


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