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The letdown at Harbour Town

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Not to say that Brian Gay’s 10-shot win at Harbour Town wasn’t as memorable as last week’s Masters, but CBS chose the middle of the final round of the Verizon Heritage Classic to show an artfully shot and Nantz-narrated tribute to the drama at Augusta National, inspiring goose bumps all around … only to cut back to the “action” at Harbour Town, where Briny Baird, sporting a PF Chang’s logo on a mesh cowboy hat, was putting for par, eights shots back of the lead.

Try to hold your cheers to a dull roar, golf fans.

In some ways, Gay’s domination was a perfect comedown from the Thrilla at Amen Corner. You throw a big party on Saturday night, Sunday morning is always the time for sleeping in, slowly cleaning up and eventually taking an afternoon nap amid the rubble.

That’s what this past week’s tour stop felt like. Even Masters stalwarts like Jim Furyk and Steve Flesch, a week removed from contending in Augusta, couldn’t muster the energy to make the cut at Hilton Head. Into the fray stepped Gay, whose only prior claim to fame was winning one of those tour events opposite a World Golf Championship event, a feat for which he was basically rewarded with an automatic prefix of “Yeah, but … “ whenever his win was mentioned.

What Gay did was not only show us how any tour player, at any time, can summon up 72 holes of magic – 67-66-67-64 is about as good as it gets – but he allowed us so much down time, we had a moment to ponder some more post-Masters thoughts. Or, to put it another way, Gary McCord raised the question on the 16th hole, with a nine-shot lead, “Could he hit putter all the way in from here and still win?”

Or, to put it one more way, David Feherty noted on the 18th green: “He could make octuple-bogey here, plus one, and still win.”

So, while Gay counts his $1.026 million, buys a couple of crates of hair gel with the spare change, and makes his reservations for the 2010 Masters, a couple of wrap-up thoughts:

• It’s been a while since Tiger Woods’ reputation took any kind of hit, if ever, so it has been interesting to note the anti-Tiger fallout that came in the days after his tie-6th. More than a few observers noticed that Tiger played without any joy in his game, and seemed stiff and somewhat tense throughout. It had to burn him to no end to be clipped by Phil (67 to Tiger’s 68), and to let a fourth Masters go by without a green jacket &ndash his longest-such drought since he started playing in the cathedral of pines in 1995. Moreover, some writers accurately took note that Tiger’s claim of playing with a “Band-Aid” swing and nearly winning seemed an unsportsmanlike comment, taking some of the luster – even if inadvertent – off of Cabrera’s win. Tiger’s sportsmanship level is normally praiseworthy, but maybe not in this case.

• As per my column in this space last week, the need to recognize Cabrera’s accomplishment was a necessary development as the next few days unfolded. The more we learned of Cabrera from the various reports filed – grew up poor, in a broken home, quit school at age 10, traveled an unglamorous path to golf’s grandest stage – the more admirable his triumph became. And the ace reporting done by Alan Shipnuck in Sports Illustrated showed Cabrera’s outsized gusto for life – he ate nine small cheeseburgers at the Augusta National members dinner, and partied into the wee hours in short pants and a green jacket at his rented home in Augusta – can only make you smile.

And then Brian Gay dusted the field by ten a week later. His domination was so complete, and his last name so unique, even CBS’ Nantz did not dare engage in any patented wordplay when Gay holed out for the win. While Nantz got a mulligan on his Cabrera call in the taped package – “And there was an Angel on Easter Sunday at Augusta,” he said after a surprisingly normal call on the Sunday evening Cabrera won – he let Gay’s win stand on its own two feet, with no puns. As it should be.

Scorecard of the week

66-67-71 – Nick Price, winner, Champions Tour Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am.

In case we all forgot, Nick Price once won two majors in one year and three majors in an eight-major span and was the best player in the world. Then this kid from Stanford decided to go pro, and Nick Price didn’t win any more majors. Great career, though.

Now, at 52, he plies his trade on the Champions Tour, where you’d figure he’d clean up. Instead, Price won only his first Champions Tour event in his 39th start after one of the more bizarre final-round victory laps you’ll ever see.

Price shot 71, even par. That’s the good news. He made seven birdies. That’s the excellent news. He made seven pars. That’s pretty good news.

He also made a bogey, and THREE double-bogeys. That’s the not-so-good news. Who does this guy think he is &ndash us?

Add it up, and he shoots 71, and wins by two strokes. Price admitted huge nerves to NBC after his win, and one can only imagine his hand shaking as he signed the scorecard. Price was last seen collecting his winner’s check of $255,000 – then curling into the fetal position for a cleansing weep.

Mulligan of the week

• God bless Bill Murray. He goes the extra yard to help promote golf, drops endless amounts of goodwill at Pebble Beach every year, handles the pressure of trying to be funny on every tee box, and yet there he was, at the Outback Steakhouse Champions Tour pro-am, hooking a tee shot &ndash and drilling a woman working in her yard.

Down she went. Gayle DiMaggio took the tee shot in the temple, needed some stitches and wound up being sent to the hospital for the injury, which sort of sucked the humor out of the whole deal.

But we provide you with a happy ending: DiMaggio was back home the next day, and Murray was back out on the links, and she made him a deal – sign my DVD copy of “Caddyshack,” and we’ll call it even. Perhaps DiMaggio even earned some street cred and suggested to Murray that instead of “Fore!,” “Maybe you shoulda yelled ‘Two’.”

Inside joke for us “Shack”-heads.

Still, Murray deserves a better fate. So, let’s go back to that tee box and – somebody give that man a mulligan!

Broadcast moment of the week

“We’ll be selling second place as hard as we can.” – Nick Faldo, CBS, owning up at the top of the broadcast as Brian Gay sat on a seven-shot lead.

In fairness, Faldo was chuckling as he said it. He earns points for honesty. Sometimes life gives you lemons, sometimes life gives you lemonade, and sometimes you follow the Phil-Tiger-Kenny Perry-Angel Cabrera show with Brian Gay coasting to a 10-shot win.

At that point, perhaps the Tiffany Network should set up a remote camera in Gayle DiMaggio’s front yard and let the hijinks begin.

Where do we go from here?

• To New Orleans, where there is no Tiger, no Phil, and even no Rory, as the young Northern Irishman heads back across the Atlantic after a decent run in America. What to look for: Kenny Perry comes back out to take on the golf gods, and teenager Danny Lee of New Zealand makes his professional debut.

Brian Gay? He’s taking the week off. I’d suggest a game plan of hitting the couch and reviewing the DVR replay of Hilton Head every three hours, whilst logging on and admiring his checking account balance every other hour.

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