No one noticed Mike Nicolette, although he was only one shot off the lead.
All the big names logjammed within two shots atop the leader board--Craig Stadler, Andy Bean, Jerry Pate and Jack Nicklaus-- traipsed through the Doral-Eastern Open interview room, complaining.
Each moaned about hashing his chance to steal the tournament with a third-round blitz. "When you don't take advantage of a day when nobody is scoring," said Nicklaus, "well, that's not how you win golf tournaments."
The leader, Stadler, wasn't happy even after sinking amazing putts of 80 and 40 feet on the final two holes for a 73, a 208 total and a one-shot lead.
"Fortunately, I made giant putts (for birdie at 17 and bogey at 18) that saved me," said Stadler, who bogeyed four of the first six holes, then birdied four of the next nine. "But it's no big reward, 'cause I know I played bad."
Bean and Pate, in a second-place tie at 209, also were miffed.
"I made birdies when I shouldn't have and bogeys when I shouldn't," said Bean, who had four of each in a round of 72. "I made bogey after perfect tee shots at 10, 16 and 18. All of them, I misclubbed . . . going right at the flag every time, but you gotta have the right club in your hand."
At the 18th, after watching Stadler sink his sea-goer, Bean missed a five-foot putt for par and a share of the lead.
Pate, whose 69 was one of two rounds in the 60s today, finished with a bogey for the second straight day, this time getting up and down from a trap to avoid a double bogey. "Playing well, putting terrible," said Pate, who, after winning at Memphis last year, dived in a lake. "Does anyone know how deep the water is beside the 18th?" he asked.
Nicklaus' 72 left him tied with Calvin Peete and Scott Hoch at 210; the only other player under 213 is Eric Batten at 211. Twice, Nicklaus pulled into a tie for the lead only to make an inexcusable bogey on a par five. "My game went on vacation. I always thought it was other guys who made dumb mistakes. I don't usually err on the stupid side."
At the 18th, Nicklaus played a marvelous shot from the lake where his ball was "two inches under the water." But he then missed a 10-foot par putt on the hole he says, "I love and just wish I could play . . . there are as many ways to mess up that hole as there are golfers here, multiplied by four."
Finally, Nicklaus noticed Mike Nicolette, sitting amongst the reporters.
"Oh, I'm sorry," said Nicklaus as Nicolette took the podium--meaning if he'd known Nicolette was a player, he'd have shut up sooner.
Nicolette, you see, is tied with Bean and Pate after a 71. The 25-year-old rabbit got up at 5 a.m. on Monday for qualifying. He made putts of about 10 feet on the last four holes to shoot 76 and get into a 16-way playoff. Finally, on the fourth playoff hole at dusk, this fellow who has lost his tour card twice and has won only $22,848 in four years got the last spot in the field.
Nicolette's rules for this week have been "think less" and "don't look at the leader board." On Sunday, he just wants to "keep my nerves under control" and "keep making putts." In the last two rounds, he's had 22 one-putts.
Asked to evaluate his play here, which surpasses anything in his golfing life, the 140-pounder beamed, "I wouldn't know how to judge it."
On a hellish day, one man was in heaven.