Victory fell upon shocked Bill Glasson yesterday at the Kemper Open.
Just as defeat opened under unsuspecting Larry Mize's feet.
Neither completely understood, nor perhaps deserved, his golf fate at Congressional Country Club. Yet their intertwined drama provided some of the most indelible golf theater in years.
Glasson was so petrified by pressure that he admitted, "By the 17th, I was seriously choking . . . I was lost. I said to my caddie, 'Mike (Harmon), you gotta get me through. You gotta get me to the house.' I was losin' it. I couldn't even talk."
Just when the handsome, powerful, nearly crippled and obscure young Glasson was sure he'd choked away his slim chance for a fairy-tale triumph with a bogey at the 17th hole, just when he figured he'd lag one last 40-foot putt up near the final hole and hope for a tie for second place, it happened.
The mischievous ball dived in the hole. For a birdie on the famous, brutal 463-yard hole. For a closing 66. For a 10-under-par total of 278 and a one-shot victory over second-round leader Mize (73) and Corey Pavin (69). And, as it proved, for $90,000.
As that "mile-and-a-half" putt disappeared, Glasson looked stunned. "Just lucky . . . I wasn't trying to make it at all," he said later. "If you'd told me I had to make it to win, I'd have hit it in the lake."
But the ball was in the hole nonetheless. Instead of being a stroke behind leader Mize (and tied with Pavin) he was suddenly in the catbird's seat.
The 25-year-old, who lost his card last season as a rookie and who was the last man to survive qualifying school and get back on Tour this year, was finished with Congressional's tortures.
Just minutes before, Glasson, whose greatest day in golf until this hot afternoon was a victory in the Northern California Open at Silverado, was so out of his depth, so mentally exhausted that, with two holes to play, his caddie told him, "Bill, put your head down and look at my heels. Just follow me. I'll get you in."
The instant Glasson's final putt dropped, all the pressure that the golf world can muster was on the slender shoulders of Mize, who still was tied with Glasson but had two tough holes to play.
As the careful, meticulous Mize walked up the 17th fairway after a perfect drive, he learned of Glasson's almost miraculous birdie. His four-stroke lead at the start of the day was gone. Heck, he'd led by five at one point and came to the back nine with four shots still in hand.
But now a little-known, wild-hitting slugger with an erratic putter -- a guy named Glasson who'd started six strokes behind him and been seven down with 14 to play -- had come out of the pack, thanks to five birdies in six holes, and was in the clubhouse with a share of his lead.
You could stick a fork in Mize. He was done. His wheels had wobbled ever since he knocked a three-wood in the water at the easy 10th for a bogey. His bogey at the 14th had dropped him back into a tie for the lead with Glasson and further convinced him that he was "struggling . . . playing very poorly."
The last psychological twist of the knife was the word that Glasson had bogeyed the simple 17th to hand the lead back to Mize. Just when the baby-faced pro from Augusta, Ga., thought he'd been given a reprieve, just when he thought Glasson's attack had turned into a retreat, up goes that crazy birdie at the 18th.
Mize couldn't have been handed an easier shot than the wedge from a flat lie to a mid-green pin placement that faced him at the 17th. All he could think about was birdie. All he could make was bogey.
"I got quick, didn't finish my backswing and came over the top," said Mize whose ball ended up against a fence. After a free drop, he chili-dipped a hard but manageable chip shot, barely moving the ball half of the 30 feet to the hole and leaving it in the rough.
The rest was formality. Mize and Pavin, who birdied 15 and 16 to make the race seem tighter than it was, left themselves long birdie putts at the 18th for a chance to tie -- the kind that nobody ever makes when he needs it. Unless, of course, he is Greg Norman at the U.S. Open or Glasson at the Kemper.
Each missed narrowly. Tour historians had to scramble to the record books to find the last time that such an unknown -- someone who had never won anything at any level of golf that really made a ripple -- had won a Tour title.
The answer was easy. Exactly two years ago, another 25-year-old in his second season on Tour had shocked golf's little world with a gritty triumph at the Memphis Classic. He'd been a nobody until that day, but has matured since into a quality pro who's now fourth on the Vardon Trophy scoring list.
For five years, a curse has hung over the Kemper at Congressional on the final Sunday. Every year, huge crowds show up -- about 28,000 yesterday for a week's total of 100,000 -- and every year nothing much happens.
But not yesterday. Glasson, a native Californian now living in Potomac, is pure box office -- a cross between Greg Norman and Christopher Reeve. Next, he's so gimpy from four knee operations that he seldom can practice; that's his reward for being an all-sport star in high school -- basketball got him. Also, he's so strong, despite being only 5 foot 11, 160 pounds, that he was the Tour's driving distance champion last season. At the 18th, he used a three-wood and a seven-iron.
Finally, he's had the real hard row to hoe. "I thought I'd missed the qualifying school this year by a shot. The knife was out, ready to cut the old wrists." When he's had chances for big checks this season, he's "choked it up and blown out my brains." After a 62 at Las Vegas, he finished with a 74 and, at Colonial, he followed a 64 with a 77.
Maybe his final putt yesterday was a benediction for all his aggravation. His whole round was fantasy.
True, the course never played easier. Seventeen players broke 70, including Curtis Strange, whose 65 tied him with Willie Wood for fourth place at 281. Defending champion Norman's 66 got him sixth at 282.
But Glasson was still scalding as he birdied 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14 and 18 with putts of 4, 15, 15, 4, 1, 15, 10 and 40 feet. He saved par from deep in the woods at the 15th.
In the end, this day was a reflection of two totally different personalities. Mize, who spent most of the day assuming he was holding off Pavin, seemed unnerved by this unexpected figure who was just a figment of the leader boards. Glasson, who freewheels it on and off the course, just kept regrouping and shooting at pins.
"I'm the kind of guy who double-checks the back door at night, even if I already know I locked it," Mize said before his round.
Glasson is the kind of guy who probably wouldn't have a back door.