Lee Trevino gave a savvy, nervy demonstration today of how to play well-managed tournament golf when you hold the lead on the last day.
The Tournament Players Championship never came to the one climactic moment of drama that was expected of its Hall of Fame cast this afternoon because the cunning, disciplined and brainy Trevino never allowed it to happen.
Trevino started the day one shot ahead of the field and finished the same way, nibbling his way around the 7000-yard Sawgrass course for a well-crafted two-under-par 70 that was good enough for a 278 total and a one-stroke win over Ben Crenshaw.
Forget, for a moment, Trevino's jokes about how his wife is three times meaner than the gators in the Sawgrass swamps.
Forget his patter about how grateful he is to J.C. Snead for a swing tip that transformed his sour game.
Just remember one thing. Before he stepped to the first tee today, Trevino said, "I'm tough in the lead. I can make pars better than anybody on earth. They gotta catch me. I can make two mistakes for every one that the guys behind me can afford. I ain't givin' those guys nothin.'"
And, when Trevino stepped off the 18th green, after confidently making the final par he needed to win $72,000, his first words were, "Okay, gimme the money."
The hotshots of the PGA tour know about beautiful swings and smooth putting strokes, Trevino knows that golf is a gambler's game. He plays it like a hustler, using pressure to his advantage and to others' detriment.
Trevino's course management was a clinical model today. He always knew who he had to beat and by how much. He always knew when he had to gamble or pour on the coals. And he always knew when he could coast or play safe.
Pay little attention to the final leader board that says Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros finished in a tie for third at 280, two shots behind Trevino. They never had a chance to win.
Neither did Mike Reid, John Mahaffey or Peter Jacobsen, all of whom finished at 282 -- bringing to seven the list of players who broke the old Sawgrass 72-hole record during these merciful days of little wind and shortened tee placements.
Trevino knew who was on his trail for the first 14 holes: Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, playing in the same dream trio. He got them three down after 13, then watched them falter badly.
And he knew who was lurking in the weeds over the last four holes: Crenshaw, who threw a course record-tying 66 on the board, then hoped Trevino would fade back to him.
Some will say that Crenshaw, the perennial second, had a reasonable chance to get in a playoff today. He birdied the 71st hole and nearly made a 15-foot birdie try at the 72nd that would have put him in the clubhouse at 278.
"As it turns out, I needed just one more turn (of the ball)," said Crenshaw. "If I'd made it, I thought it might mean a playoff."
Wishful thinking, most likely.
Trevino knew Nicklaus was washed out after he three-putted the 13th In fact, the Bear bogeyed the final three holes to fall back to a sevenway tie for 14th.
And Trevino knew Player, who actually grabbed the tournament lead for one hole on the front line, was buried after he drove out of bounds at the 14th. Player fell to a six-way tie for eighth.
So, it is natural that Trevino also measured Crenshaw to size.
"I first noticed he'd got to nine under when I came to the 15th," said Trevino, who was then 10 under. "I said, 'Well, wait a minute. I gotta do something.'"
Three hours before, it was Player and Nicklaus who had gotten Trevino's attention when they both birdied the first hole and Player also birdied the third. "I told my caddy Herman, 'They're not treatin' me nice at all. That's a mistake. They've made me mad,'" said Trevino, who answered that early insult by birdying the fourth and fifth holes to take the lead permanently.
As soon as Trevino observed Crenshaw's presence, he immediately birdied the 15th hole.
"I had this little 10-foot putt," said Trevino, "but as I was lining it up, some guy with a red beard yells at my caddy, 'Get out of the way. I can't see'.
"I asked the guy, 'Would you like to have him in the ground?'" said the disbelieving Trevino. "He said, 'Yes.'
"I figured maybe I better not tangle with this guy.""
Trevino sank the putt, and, at that point, essentialy ended the tournament. By the time the Merry Mex came to the 16th tee, Crenshaw had missed his putt at the 18th and his final score was posted. Trevino knew exactly what he needed to win: a bogey at the tough 17th and par at the easy 504-yard par-5 18th.So, that is exactly what he got.
Trevino's overly cautious bogey at 17 was not as commercially safe as he had hoped, since he had to "leak a three-foot knee-knocker in the side door" to avoid double bogey after hitting the fairway rough and then a greenside trap.
However, Trevino's show-closing par had his insignia on it. After two safe irons left him 100 yards from the pin he faced a tricky wedge to a narrow sloping-away green with water left and behind.
"That shot would terrify anybody else," said Crenshaw. "But nobody in the world can hit that wedge like Lee. I knew my chances were gone as soon as he laid up safe."
The low, bite-on-the-second-hop "scald-and-skid" sand wedge is Trevino's trademark, his caddy-shed edge form hustling days. As though teasing the crowd, like a con shilling the mark, Trevino screamed the wedge at the pin. The crowd gasped, thinking he had bounced into trouble, then cheered as the ball stopped eight feet from the hole for an easy two-putt victory.
If Trevino had needed to sink the first putt to win, who thinks he wouldn't have?
Trevino's greatest hurdle today came before the television cameras arrived. And it never showed in the final leader board standings. It was his duel over the first 14 holes with Nicklaus and Player.
The first-tee introductions of the trio sounded like a heavyweight fight with every name and major championship (28) listed.
"We'd never been paired before," said Trevino. "You tend to feel and believe in that grouping that you're the underdog.
"I just minded my business. If they wanted to talk, we talked. If they did not want to, I shut up."
The tensions in that pairing, where even the caddies -- Angelo, Rabbit and Fat Herman -- are famous, were subtle but powerful.
Later, after that last nervy wedge had upped hs earnings to $2,198,726 for his career, $110,548 this year, and brought him a tour victory for the 16th consecutive year, Trevino was asked how it felt to play with "the big boys."
"Just' cause I don't hit it long don't mean I'm a piece of cotton candy," said Trevino, who hit only 62 percent of his greens in regulation here, but needed only 105 putts for 72 holes.
"I'm one of the big boys, too."