For the first time in two years, Tom Weiskopf defeated his worst enemy - himself - and waltzed to a two-stroke victory in the Kemper Open golf tournament today with 70-277.
Weiskopf tried his darnedest to lose, pulling all the immature stunts in his arsenal on the front nine, out of camera range, and falling three strokes off the lead into a six-way tie for fourth place.
But long back-to-back birdie putts at the sixth and seventh holes were enough to make even Terrible Tom smile. With his disposition sweetened and his inexperienced rivals crumbling around him, Weiskopf confidently ripped the heart out of the ninth and 10th holes - both long par fives - for three-foot birdies that put him in a two-stroke lead that he never lost.
Weiskopf, who started the day in a three-way tie with George Burns and Bill Rogers who tied for second, trickled a 20-foot birdie putt in the side door on the first hole. He seemed likt a mortal cinch to run away with this tournament for the third time in his career.
But the famous Weiskopf disposition, which has caused the Ohioan with the classic swing to be the most disappointing player of his generation, surfaced the instant he got a bad break.
When a fading drive caught the rough at No. 3, Weiskopf cursed. When he hit his second fat into a trap, he kicked the spinach grass. In the trap, he stopped in midbackswing and made a two-minute production out of getting a gnat out of his eye. Then he hit a poor blast and bogeyed.
At the fourth it was a replay - rough-to-trap. This time Weiskopf decided it was a photographer that made his sand shot go 20 feet past the pin. "Good picture? I sure hope so," snapped Weiskopf, although the shutter had snapped after the shot was hit.
On No. 5 it was a fan walking at the edge of Weiskopf's vision who drew the long driver's glares and castigations after a Wiskopf wood hooked in the direction of Egypt and made five, not four, on the easy par five.
With Weiskopf in a purple funk for three holes, his two playing partners, Burns and Doug Twell, were moving past him - three strokes past him.
Twell, little known rabbit, received several small good breaks - a ball jumping out of a fairway trap, a good kick off a hill - and managed birdies at Nos. 1, 5 and 6.
Burns, shaky the first two holes and flirting with trouble, suddenly burst into the lead. While Weiskopf looked daggers at the photographer, Burns sank an eight-foot birdies on the fourth. While Weiskopf was lecturing the gallery, both Burns and Tewell were tapping in birdies at the par-five fifth.
When Tewell birdied six to join Burns in the lead at 11 under par, Weiskopf had reached bottom. He was one-ove-par for the day, three shots off the lead, and also a stroke behind Rogers. For good measure, five other players were tied with him at eight under. Weiskopf again seemed to have self-destructed.
But who knows what switches turn the golfing machine called Weiskopf on and off? At the sixth hole Weiskopf broke out the big boyish grain birdie putt he had missed all week. But the big breaker broke down and down - nearly three feet - and in the center of the cup.
The foul mood was broken. Weiskopf broke mut the big boyish grin that has never seemed to go with his grumpy fairway antics. When an inebriated fan who seemed to think he was at some sort of Kemper 500, not the Kemper Open, yelled, "Yaahaaa. You better smile, Tall Tom," Weiskopf answered, "Have another beer."
Perhaps Weiskopf's best golf shot of the day, and the one that showed Burns and Tewell who was boss, came at No. 7. All three drove through the fairway into serious rough. (Can't anybody here fade a one-iron?)
Burns and Tewell both got lucky lies, but hit fat irons into the tall fringe. Weiskopf seemed stymied yards behind a 30-foot high pine. But the man who has won $159,221 of his $1,450,774 career earnings on this course, punch-hooked a hooded nine iron through the tree's outer branches.
"Hit a hard spot," orders Weiskopf as the ball rolled 50 yards over the baked-out, ugly fairway and onto the back fringe.
Then came Weiskopf's coup de grace. He holed a 25-foot putt from the edge. Burns missed an easy six-footer and Tewell followed with a flubbed four-footer on the same line for bogeys.
Instead of being three shots back, Weiskopf was suddenly in a four-way tie for the lead. "That was the turning point," said Burns afterward. "Tom made three from the woods on the toughest hole on the course."
At the ninth and 10th, the sort of driving holes that had the fans here crying out, "Stop hurting that ball, Tom," Weiskopf was pumped up. "I was only two under par for 13 par fives up to that point," explained Weiskopf. "That's not good." The 535-and 597-yard holes never had a chance as Weiskopf was green-high twice and cashed putts shorter than the length of his putter.
Burns, Rogers and Tewell proved they were not quite ready to win. Burns bogeyed the 11th and Rogers the 10th, both after wild drives, and Weiskopf was two strokes up.
Burns made one last birdie at 12, but immediately drove far right and bogeyed the next hole. "I'm delighted to finish second," said Burns after his 72. "It's my biggest check ($23,125). Once Tom got ahead, there was no way he was going to wilt. I failed at the times I should have put on the pressure with bad drives."
Rogers also was tickled with his check - $14,000 more than he has ever won in a week before. "After I three-putted 14 to go three shots back, I limped in with pars," grinned Rogers, admitting that he wasn't going to throw away greenbacks trying to catch Weiskopf.
Weiskopf credited his victory to his ability to maintain his concentration (i.e., his temper) in the face of "bad bounces, bad breaks and adversity."
"I hit perfect drives at three and four and both took bad kicks into the rough. There was no way I could get the ball on the green," said Weiskopf. "Then I messed up an easy birdie hole at five, I just stopped and told myself. "Tom, you're swinging are good to let this happen to you."
"Every week it seems like the leaders back up in the final round. I told my caddie at six, 'If they (Burns and Tewell) keep this up, they'll win. But I don't think they will.'"
By the final holes only Weiskopf looked crisp as the humidity and pressure crumpled the field. A bogey at 17 could only trim Weiskopf's lead from three shots to two.
After two long, bitter years without a victory, Weiskopf had finally kept his head for 72 holes, or most of them. "The only person who is going to beat me is myself," said Weiskopf, "and this week I didn't do it."
For Weiskopf it was a narrow escape from himself - narrower than two strokes.