Marino lets another tournament slip away

Eric Adelson
Yahoo! Sports
Martin Laird overcame a shaky start at Bay Hill to post his second tour victory

Marino lets another tournament slip away

Martin Laird overcame a shaky start at Bay Hill to post his second tour victory

ORLANDO, Fl. – The website does not belong to the pro golfer.

It belongs to a hypnotist.

On the site, the other Steve Marino claims he “has enabled clients to reach their Smoking Cessation, Weight Loss, Stress Reduction and Athletic Performance goals.”

And therein lays the sad irony of Sunday’s final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Steve Marino the golfer, who has squandered 54-hole leads in his career, couldn’t summon the mental fortitude to keep a three-stroke advantage on the final nine holes at Bay Hill.

He’s still oh-for-his-career.

Marino would have been a superb story on this day. He almost was. He shot to the top of the leaderboard halfway through his round with a lovely birdie on the 10th. He sprung off the green and seemed surprised when fans started cheering his name. He even allowed a grin to appear on his face as he walked to the 11th tee. This was only minutes after Tiger Woods had signed dozens of autographs without a single smile, amid relentless chants of “Tiger, Tiger.” Marino, in contrast, drank in the support, as if thinking, “What? You mean I’m? the man?”

He sure was.

But the ruddy-faced Marino has been the man before. He was tied for first after three rounds in ’08 at Disney, tied for first after three rounds in ’09 at Barclays, and in first by himself after 54 holes this season at Pebble. He was the man, and then he wasn’t.

Hardcore golf followers will also recall that it was Marino who teed off with then-59-year-old Tom Watson two years ago in the final group on Saturday in the British Open at Turnberry. With the world watching to see if Watson could position himself for a magical Sunday run, Marino lost five shots in five holes, and was soon out of contention.

His words after the round were prescient:

"It's amazing,” he said, “how fast you can let a pretty good round get away from you."

On this hot Sunday at Bay Hill, Marino bogeyed 15, failed to make a birdie at the vulnerable 16th, and then came undone at 17 when his 6-iron flew into a greenside bunker. The ball was buried, and so, it seemed, were Marino’s hopes for victory after he doubled the hole to fall two shots behind eventual winner Martin Laird.

He looked nervous, even rattled. Though in fairness, he looks that way when he’s playing well.

Marino bravely birdied 18 and pumped his fist, then grinned again on the way to the scorer’s trailer, but when a reporter approached, he confessed to being “glad it’s over.” The smile and sense of relief wilted into an expression of sadness. His lips, suddenly pressed tight, curled into his cheek in a grimace.

“Wish I could play 17 again,” he said.

As he said this, fans nearby screamed for other golfers.

“Rickie!” they yelled. “Bubba!”

“Rickie! Bubba!”

But nobody screamed for Marino. Cameras zoomed in on him watching Laird play the final hole. After Laird reached the green, Marino walked quickly to the practice green to prepare just in case the leader failed to two-putt for par.

A few minutes later, Marino’s caddy, looking at NBC coverage through the clubhouse window, turned to give his boss the bad news. Marino, with a final-round 72 and 280 for the tournament, came up one stroke short.

He lowered his head, scooped up his golf balls, and then walked toward the media center.

Marino was gracious in defeat. And there’s not too much to feel sorry for, as he’s having a great season already: He finished in a tie for 2nd at the Sony Open and a tie for fourth at Pebble. He’s earned almost $1.5 million in three months.

And he gets to practice at Augusta this week.

But still, words were tough:

“One hiccup cost me the tournament … I was a little bit nervous … I felt my game was good enough … Obviously I’m disappointed, what more can I say?”

Fans looking for someone to root for at Augusta need look no further than the 31-year-old Oklahoma native. We know of at least one golf lover who will be cheering him on.

“Oh gosh I was definitely rooting for him today,” says Steve Marino the hypnotist, when reached by phone Sunday evening. He said he watched Steve Marino the golfer from his home in Myrtle Beach.

“I definitely felt a kinship with him.”

The hypnotist volunteered his cell number to the golfer.

But hopefully, before long, he won’t need it.

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