Trip to Masters matters most

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:03 AM ET

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- One of the rewards reaped by Stephen Ames yesterday for lapping the field at The Players Championship is an invitation to the Masters in early April.

He's thinking about it.

Millions of golfers all over the world would crawl across six miles of broken glass just to get a glimpse of Augusta National, let alone play in the Masters. But Ames wasn't about to commit just yet. He has a family vacation to Trinidad planned for the next two weeks.

"I have no plans of playing at Augusta," he said. "My kids (and wife Jodi) have come out for their spring break and we had plans to go somewhere else. My priorities have always been my family first. If it comes down to it, it's probably going to be a two-week vacation. I'd rather go on vacation, to be truthful."

And he said it without laughing. Later, Ames was less definitive.

"(The Masters) just wasn't on the schedule. Now it is, obviously, so I've got to sit down and talk to (his family) and see what happens."

Ames, with his prickly personality, always has had some difficulty navigating through the politics of golf off the course. But there was no disputing that he was the best player at this tournament, which features the best field and biggest financial prize ($1.44 million US to the winner) on the PGA Tour.

On one of the toughest scoring days at TPC Sawgrass, Ames shot the best round of the day, a 67, and won by six shots over Retief Goosen.

"My first win was the Western Open and this is The Players Championship," he said. "This is big. It's characterized as the fifth major with 48 of the top 50 players in the world. I beat the best players in the world this week."

That included Tiger Woods, who took Ames to the woodshed at the world match play championships a month ago, beating him 9 and 8.

"That's the great thing about this game," Woods said. "It starts over again every week."

That may be true but there are many players on Tour whose psyches are so fragile they might never recover from such a shellacking, let alone win one of the premier events in golf a month later.

"I got my ass kicked and that was it," Ames said. "What am I going to do? Sit down and cry? He's the No. 1 player in the world and I got beat by a better player."

Nobody was going to beat Ames yesterday. He was in a league by himself. And he did it without even breaking a sweat while all around him, players were getting into one train wreck after another.

"Sometimes, when a guy is in that zone, it's like he's playing a different golf course than the rest of us," said Fred Funk, the 2005 champion. "Usually it's Tiger. But (yesterday) it was Stephen Ames."

Two years ago, Ames made his PGA Tour breakthrough by winning the Western Open and went on to a solid season. Last year Ames had an off-year but he could be given a free pass because his wife, Jodi, was diagnosed with lung cancer in June.

She underwent surgery in July and has been given a clean bill of health. Needless to say, golf was not a priority for Ames during that period.

"When I was playing the British Open last year, I'm standing over each shot wondering what am I going to do with this ball? I had no thought what I was doing.

"I knew right there I was in some distant zone."

The only distant zone he's going to be in now is his native Trinidad and Tobago, if he goes ahead with his vacation plans.

But it says here it would be a serious professional mistake to follow his heart to Trinidad instead of Georgia next week. With all due respect to family values, he would have to be off his rocker to turn his back on a chance at the green jacket.


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