A place in history for Greg Owen

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

ORLANDO -- Just when you start to take the game for granted, something like this reminds us how utterly cruel golf can be.

The game's lore is littered with tragic victims who lost because of self-inflicted wounds. The name Jean Van de Velde comes to mind, he of British Open ignominy. Or how about Scott Hoch, who missed a two-foot putt and lost the Masters? Canadian Open fans will recall the agony of Neal Lancaster's trainwreck at Angus Glen in 2002. There are dozens more.

You can add to that list the name of 34-year-old Englishman Greg Owen who, poised to win his first PGA Tour event at the Bay Hill Invitational yesterday, three-putted from 40 inches on the 71st hole, opening the door for Australian Rod Pampling to steal it all away on the 72nd.

IN CONTROL

Owen had arrived at the 17th tee at 16 under par, one shot better than Pampling. Both men missed the green but Owen chipped his ball to rest three feet, four inches from the hole. Owen had putted 53 times from inside five feet this week and made every one of them.

Meanwhile, Pampling missed a 10-foot par putt and appeared set to fall two shots down with only one hole left. Then, as Pampling started toward the 18th tee, Owen missed his first putt, leaving himself a two-footer to stay one shot ahead. He quickly walked up and waved at the second putt, lipping it out. He and Pampling were tied.

On the par-four 18th, Pampling hit the green in regulation, then lagged his putt to about 18 inches. Owen hit his second shot into a greenside bunker then splashed it out, leaving himself a 13-foot putt to tie. The putt looked as if it was about to fall, but horseshoed out, leaving Pampling the improbable winner.

"You can accept missing the first putt," said an anguished Owen, as he dandled his 3-year-old daughter on his knee. "But to throw away a (second) shot like that after all the hard work you've done all week is just stupid."

Owen was asked how he would deal with this jarring defeat.

"I don't know," he said. "I'll find out tonight, but it's not going to be easy. You don't get many chances to win on the PGA Tour on a great golf course like this. I had it in my pocket. It was there and I threw it away. I really don't know what happened."

Golf happened, is what. And Pampling knew it. He was a subdued champion, uncomfortable with the circumstances of his victory.

"I don't know what to say," said Pampling. "I figured my chances were just about done. That was obviously a shock. You never want to see anyone do that. It's such a cruel game. It's cruel, but that's golf.

"It will always be looked at as the one Greg gave away but I feel like I earned it. I played great all week."

Owen spent the early part of the day relentlessly tracking down Pampling, who had started the final round with a four-stroke advantage.

When Pampling hit his tee shot out of bounds at the 13th, making a double-bogey, Owen pulled even with him at 14-under.

At the 15th, Owen took the lead for the first time when he rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt.

Darren Clarke finished alone in third place, a shot behind Owen, and one ahead of Lee Westwood and Ted Purdy. Vijay Singh was alone in seventh at nine-under.

Mike Weir finished in a tie for 17th place. Weir settled for an even par round of 72, finishing at five-under-par. He had perhaps his best ball-striking tournament of the year but could not get his putter heated up.

Still, after an up and down start to his season, Weir heads to The Players Championship next week at TPC Sawgrass, the unofficial fifth major, with a ton of confidence.

"I'm ready for next week, especially if I can keep driving it well like this," he said. "You really have to be driving it well (at TPC) and I've got three days to work on my putting."

And what of Greg Owen? His gaffe cost him an automatic invitation to the Masters. It cost him, at least until he wins, a chance to play in the 2007 season-opening Mercedes Championship. It cost him $396,000 in cold hard currency, the difference between winner and runner-up money. And it won him a place in history.

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


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