A sort of charming, perverse inevitability surrounded Mark Hayes' two stroke victory in the coveted Tournament Players Championship on the brutal Sawgrass links today.
In the end it seemed natural that the $60,000 first prize should go to a golfer who, until the closing holes, had no thought of victory and was, he admitted, simply playing to survive.
Hayes, who started the day in third play, struggled to hold his mind and game together over the 7,714 booby trapped yards of this wind, sand, marsh- and pine infested monster.
When Hayes rolled in a superfluous nine-foot birdie putt on the 72d hole, he had managed an even par round of 72 today on one of the most devilish tests of patience that man has created to test himself.
Hayes' final 72-74-71-72 - 289 aggregate made him the only man in this splendid field to break 290.
While Hayes, deep in concentration, a hat pulled low over his eyes, carved out two birdies, two bogeys and 14 pars, the third round coleaders - Mike McCullough and Tom Watson - skied to 75 and 77.
McCullough was first to explode and first to recover. A double bogey at the fifth hole knocked him out of the lead that he had held or shared for 58 holes. But he chipped his way into second place on the final three holes.
"I had a chance to come unglued. There was a time I thought I might," said McCullough, a 32-year-old tour struggler who truly can use today's $34,200 bonanza.
But at the par-five 18th, McCullough barely missed chipping in an eagle that might have created heart-stopping ending, and settled for a tap-in birdie that brought him home at 291 a stroke ahead of Hale Irwin and Bruce Devlin.
Not so fortunate was Watson, who seemed to be in the driver's seat leading both shots Hayes and McCullough by two shots at the start of the closing nine.
That was when Hayes figured he might as well forget about first place.
"Early in the season, in California, all I thought about was win, win, win," said the 27-year-old Hayes, who was 11th on the PGA winning list last year ($151,699). "But we all aren't (Jack) Nicklaus. We don't have the talent to will a victory.
"So I decided to relax, try to cash a big check each week and just wait for the victory to come.
"On the front side today I didn't consider myself in the running that much. Tom (Watson) was two up on me, and he doesn't have a reputation for backing up.
"But suddenly every shot he hit went he wrong way. Seems like he was in every trap on the course. Everyone just started going past me in reverse. I just told myself to concentrate on making pars.
The turnabout started at the 10th. Hayes whistled a three-iron shot out of the left rough and low over a row of pines to the center of the green. Watson, who had saved par from a back trap at nine, followed a perfect drive at the 445-yard 10th with a weak iron shot into the front trop. He couldn't get up and down again.
At 12 Watson was bunkered again, bogeyed and saw the last of his lead over Hayes disappear.
Watson was on the ropes and Hayes knew it. Though Hayes had lived in fear of his driver all day, suing the dastardly hook-pone thing only once on the front nine, he pulled it out at the 13th tee. With a tailwind, he busted a 300-yarder.
Watson hooked into a fairway trap, then duck-hooked into a scrubby pine 30 yards short of the green. The sweet-swinging Watson, who has already won twice this year, found his ball in a brutal buried lie compounded by an obstructed swing. He barely blasted it 15 feet with an ugly thrash, but wedged up and down to save bogey.
But Watson was noticeably upset, while Hayes just got cooler. At the tight 386-yard 14th, Hayes laid a one-iron shot in safety-first position 220 yards out. Watson brought out the big lumber and flayed his drive into an imbedded lie in a fairway trap.
Watson flew the grew, butchered his chip and bogeyed. Hayes hit the sort of dream seven-iron shot into 14 that always seem to befall the man who does not fight the game.
"It flew the front trap, right on the pin," said Hayes. "When I got up there, I couldn't believe the ball had bitten and stopped dead in its tracks on a downhill lie."
Hayes braced into his open-stance putting form and rolled down a 12-foot birdie. His lead suddenly was two shots.
At 15, Sawgrass most beautiful and disaster-causing hole, a 201-yard par three with water all around a pin tucked in the left back, Hayes laced a pure, drawing four-iron shot 15-feet from the hole. He got his par.
"Somewhere around the turn I opened my stance a little and I really found it. I was maneuvering every shot the way I wanted, a little left or right, whichever I needed," said Hayes.
But one last crisis remained. At the downwind 439-yard 17th, Hayes had a dinky 109-yard flip wedge into a big green. But he took too much club, considering "my pumped-up state," and "one-hopped one into the back trap. I could kicked myself. It was pure ignorance, no excuse." Hayes blasted poorly and bogeyed.
The 18th tee was a scene of confusion, if only in Hayes' mind. He did not know that Devlin had hooked his drive into the left lake on 18 and that minutes later Irwin had done the same thing. He saw Irwin near the water "but I couldn't tell if he had gone in and had to drop out or what."
So Hayes gambled on that dangerous driver. "If you make double (bogey) trying to guide it home, geez, that's the worst feeling in the world," said Hayes. "I hate to finish like that."
Out came the driver and out boomed a cannon of a 320-yard windboosted drive. "I figured I still might need a bird."
But Sawgrass had two last nasty tricks for Hayes. First, Hayes blistered a five-iron second shot into the 522-yard closing hole. The gallery of 10,000 behind the last green cheered as it appeared the ball was dead on the stick, then let out a gasp of disbelief as the sphere flew the green and imbedded itself under the back lip of the back trap.
To compound Hayes' problem the official scoreboard had not recorded McCullough's final birdie putting him at three over. It incorrectly told Hayes that he had a two-shot load, not the single stroke he actually had.
"If things had worked out differently, that would have been very big," said Hayes.