|Thorpe's Dream Finish|
San Francisco Chronicle by Brian Murphy
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- Jim Thorpe, ever colorful, ever honest, admitted he lay awake on Saturday night and thought about the lurking specter of Tom Watson in his final playing group in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship on Sunday. He said to himself, over and over, respectful of and, perhaps, a bit fearful of Watson's mastery of important golf moments, "Man, anybody but Tom Watson. Anybody but Tom Watson."
By dusk Sunday, after Thorpe stared down his own worries and, yes, stared down Watson and won the Charles Scwhab Cup Championship at Sonoma Golf Club, he had to know how wrong he was. It had to be Watson chasing him on Sunday. It had to be the other way for the best possible theater. It had to be the Champions Tour's two most charismatic players, because only they could style the season-ending event with appropriate elan and flourish, Watson with that rock-solid swing and legendary resume, Thorpe with his whippy, home-made swing and swaggering alive persona.
Cue the players on the 16th green, as Thorpe clung to a one-shot lead over a charging Watson -- Thorpe started the day four shots clear of Watson -- and stood over a 67-foot putt from the fringe. There, Thorpe bested Watson and gave an entertaining final round its signature moment, rolling it pure, loving the line, loving the speed and watching it disappear for an eagle. Thorpe celebrated, and Watson, that familiar grin across that still-freckled face, doffed his cap to Thorpe.
Thorpe said his birdie on the next hole, the par-3 17th, was as important, or more, to his cause, but most present will remember the 16th, a hole Thorpe had said on Saturday evening bothered him, and did not set up well to the eye. He beat it Sunday.
"The turning point," said Thorpe, elated and sated, in a postround news conference that touched on his fondness for his profession, Watson's game, playing craps and "smelling the roses." "It was like I saw it going in before it got there."
Watson said he had no problem saluting his foe. After watching Thorpe miss several makable birdie putts on the front nine, he felt the golf gods were squaring things, and was OK with that.
"I was inching up on him, but I was extinguished by that eagle," Watson said. "This game is about evening things out, so I told Thorpey coming off the green, 'That evens things out.'"
Thorpe, unabashed in his admiration for the player who won eight majors on the PGA TOUR said he more remembers Watson's words as they walked up the 18th fairway. "Great playing," he said to Thorpe.
"Coming from a guy who won 39 times and eight majors, that's pretty good," Thorpe said. "He didn't have to say that."
The final tally: Thorpe a final round 68 for a winning score of 20-under par, Watson a final round 67 for a second-place 17 under. Tom Kite finished third, at 15 under after a 67, but the story was elsewhere. It was with Thorpe, conquering his fears, and it was with Watson adding another chapter to his famous and touching friendhip with his caddie, Bruce Edwards, who is battling Lou Gehrig's Disease. Thorpe won $440,000 and massive respect, Watson won a $1 million annuity for winning the season-long Charles Scwhab Cup points race, then annouced he would put the money toward ALS research and patient services.
Watson nearly made the day entirely his as he crafted the bogey-free round. While Thorpe idled, going out in even par, Watson went out in 34, then made his move, coming for Thorpe just as Thorpe feared. Watson came with the surety of the taxman, and with as much sympathy, too. A kick-in birdie on the par-4 12th and a two-putt birdie on the par-5 14th, set up by a truly fine 4-wood from the left rough, to the green put him one shot back.
Thorpe felt the heat, and didn't deny it, phasing it in his own frank - and blue - manner. "People said it was great it came down to the wire," Thorpe said. "Well, bull." Thorpe got a huge laugh in his news conference with that line, but his nerves at the time were no joke, he said.
"I didn't know my heart could beat that fast," he said. "A lot of you probably didn't think we get nervous, but believe me.... I'd rather have come to the 10th tee with a 14-shot lead. I don't like that close stuff."
He didn't, but he handled it, and it made for the best show. On the 18th green, covered by shadows from the huge oaks in the Sonoma Valley, Watson put his arm around Edwards and the two friends talked, watching Thorpe hole out for a win. Thorpe was delighted, and relieved. He hugged his caddie and Edwards, and it was an undeniably satisfying scene.
Later, Watson asked Thorpe: "How did you read that putt on 16? How'd you lag that in, Thorpey?" Watson said, grinning.
"Sometimes," Thorpe said, also smiling "it happens like that."