The sky was getting deep pink, turning to purple. Soon, it would be black. The sun blazed behind the tall palms and multicolored water fountains of the Doral Country Club. It should have been a perfect day's end in Ray Floyd's manicured, climate-controlled golf world.
Instead, as always on the pro golf tour, the mind-forged manacles of the devil's game were doing their dastardly worst. Just when he should have been delighted to lead the Doral Open by a stroke over Gil Morgan (71 today), Floyd, despite his 71 for a 205 total, was going through the torments of the damned.
Or, in this case the torments of a man trying to squeeze in an eight-foot putt. This was the day Floyd could have put his baby to bed. Instead, the hole suddenly became the size of a pinhead. "All I can say in my heart is that I should have lapped the field," said Floyd in disgust. "It's dejecting . . . on the last 15 holes, I had a makable birdie putt on every hole. I missed one from five feet, four from 10 feet, five from 15 feet, and I three-putted from 15.
"From where I had the ball, it would have been easier to shoot 61 than 71," said Doral's defending champion.
Instead of leaving the field, Floyd succeeded in bunching a gang of fine players on his heels, including Keith Fergus (69), David Graham (68) and Lenoard Thompson (71) at 207 and Tom Kite (70), Bruce leitzke (69), Mark Lye 965, at least three strokes better than any of the contenders today), Bob Murphy (69) and Mike Reid (68) at 208.
"I don't think I lost my putting stroke overnight,"said Floyd. "I just misread a couple, then started to read stuff that wasn't there. Then you force your hand, and your whole concept is shot. From 12 feet on in, you have to feel you can make eight of 10."
With this in mind, Floyd headed to the lush practice carpet at sundown. Floyd dropped down five balls eight feet from the hole. With his faithful offset Zebra putter, he tapped five gentle straight-in putts . . . missed them all. He raked them back and tried again. Missed 'em all. And a third time, and a fourth, Zero for 20.
Other players were noticing, including Kite, who, if he wins here would get a $250,000 bonus for back-to-back triumphs. "I'd need about 65 tomorrow," he said, then glanced at Floyd and murmured: "or 66."
For half an hour, Floyd putted, never more than 10 feet from the hole. He switched to a Ping, then to a different Zebra, then, finally, back to his original. Floyd might have made five putts in 100. The misses flocked together inches past the hole like sins cluttering a bad conscience.
Ironically, if any man here should have assuaged conscience it is Floyd, who had the previous evening had given a huge party for 120 PGA Tour people here at his huge home. He did the same year. "Just my way of saying thank you to golf. And," he says with a grin, "after we did it last year and I won here, my wife wouldn't let me do it again. I'll admit, when you do something for other people for no particular reason, it puts you in a wonderful frame of mind."
Unforntunately, it doesn't help your putting.
"In basketball, sometimes there's a lid on the rim," said Floyd. "Well, puttin' is worse."
When you can't sink anything outside the leather, every other shot gets tougher. The pro expression is: "The putter goes right through your bag," meaning, in time, it contaminates every other club. The worst words a pro can say are: "I'll have to hit it so close I can't miss."
As Floyd came off the practice green, he said, "I'll just have to hit it so close tomorrow that I can't miss it."
On Sunday, Floyd may be wiser. This afternoon, he certainly saw golf's premier example of a man who can't cope with frustration -- Lanny Wadkins.
The mercurial Wadkins came to the 18th tied for the lead, but he was boiling. Birdie putts had burned the edge al day. At the 17th, when a chip trickled past the edge, Wadkins collapsed, face first, on the green. He was ripe for the famous 18th, the toughest hole on the Tour (statisically), the 437-yard watery beast that gave this course its Blue Monster nickname.
Wadkin' second shot hooked onto the coral at the greenside lake's brink. With the ball in what looked like a coral egg carton, Wadkins tried a wedge. When the counting stopped, Watdkins had quadruple bogey. And a blown fuse.
From three-foot range, he fired his wedge full force at his bag and missed his caddie's hand by inches.
"Yeah, it was smoking'," said the caddie, Pete Bender, reluctantly. "It missed me by inches . . . Thank god."
Throughout Wadkin's round, his wife carried a spare driver in case his, which had cracks in the head, shattered. Unfortunately, she wasnht carrying a spare brain.