PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLA. -- Unless you have thrown putters into trees and bent 3-woods against the earth until they were properly punished, you probably cannot know what Mark McCumber suffered today at the PGA. And you may not sense how close he came to one of the most remarkable feats of emotional resiliency in a sport that values that virtue above all others.

Let's not begin with him standing in the 72nd fairway, 254 yards from the flag and facing a 20 mph wind. Let's not watch him pull out his driver. Let's not talk about his attempt to hit a shot over water that no one else dared try all day.

First, let's find out how he got there -- one shot behind co-leaders Larry Nelson and Lanny Wadkins with one hole to play. "Okay, I hit it in the water," he said later. "But I came so close it's scary. Even after it left the club, I thought it had a chance.

"I'll be second-guessed. Just this morning I heard somebody talking about Curtis {Strange} hitting that wood at the 13th hole at the {'85} Masters," he said. "Guess it wouldn't have been talked about for a few years if I'd knocked it on and made eagle to win the PGA."

On Saturday night, he talked to himself about composure. So what if he was one of golf's little guys, a five-time winner in 10 seasons who'd cracked the top 10 money list once. He was gonna have fun and fight the mean old game. Well, he went the full 15 rounds.

The second hole brought a fairway trap and a bogey. Still tied for the lead. At the 533-yard third hole, he hit a lovely soft wedge from rough to tapin range. That gave him a birdie and a faster heartbeat.

So what if he missed the green at No. 4? Another wedge, another tapin for par and his confidence grew. That he birdied the next hole was no surprise.

That's how you get a two-shot lead in the PGA. That's also how you get excited, don't finish your backswing and block your next drive into the foliage. Studying his lie in the rough, he said, "For this week, that looks like you teed it up."

He tried to play a safety back to the fairway on the 485-yard par-5. As soon as ball left club, he screamed, "No, no."

Caught a flyer. That's the phrase. Into a lake on the fly. "That was a good layup, son," he muttered.

Steady as she goes. Take a drop. Hit an iron into the back fringe. Chip to six feet. Then sink a slippery sidehill putt. What you call a helluva bogey.

Yet, somehow, that wedge into the water had showed him the depths of deceit at the core of his endeavor. His concentration went walkabout. He bogeyed No. 6. Still in the lead as others failed, he kept looking for a way to bleed on himself. From the center of the seventh fairway -- 160 yards from home -- he made double bogey.

How? Oh, easy as golf. Overclub. Blame cameramen for clicking on your backswing. Then, chili dip your chip. Chip again. Then miss a three-foot putt.

Personally, this is when I like to commit suicide. Maybe his brother Jim suspected as much. In the crowd, on the way to the next tee, he rubbed his brother's shoulders, whispered in his ear and sent him back for another round. And another wild drive, another bogey.

"The tournament hasn't even started yet, Mark," said Jim McCumber on the way to the 11th tee. "I know. I know you're right," his brother answered.

Nobody in these parts really believed it when he birdied the 11th and 12th holes to get back into a tie. Headline: Man Presumed Dead Wins PGA. Simple as pie. Reach a long par-5 in two shots. Then miss an eagle by four inches on the hardest hole on the course, the 428-yard 12th.

Think he had endured enough? He'd barely started. At the 13th hole, he went rough to rough to bogey. "I know this sounds strange," he said, "but there really wasn't much negative in my mind, honest. I wasn't going to fall into that ego trap of being too embarrassed to win. I'd have been glad to shoot 75 and win."

At the 14th hole, he was in the fringe. So what did he do? Just chip the ball straight into the hole for a birdie to take back the lead. That was the shot that might've won this PGA. It didn't. A bad first putt led to a bogey at No. 15. Tied for the lead. The 16th was no better. More rough and another bogey. Out of the lead.

How much embarrassment is enough? By this point, he had five birdies, seven bogeys and one double bogey. Of the 16 holes, 14 had been a total emotional battleground. No rest.

When he missed the green at the 17th, he should, finally, have been vulture meat. But he wasn't. Up and down for par. Let's go to 18.

"I smoked my drive," he said. "In the fairway, I kept thinking about the fifth hole back home. Same second shot. Always into the wind. I hit driver every time and I put it on the green eight out of 10. I could have ginked {sic} it down the left side and played a wedge in. But if I'd lost that way, I'd have felt terrible.

"The long game's my strength. That gamble was no shot in the dark. For me, it's 50-50. I just got the wrong 50."

After the water, after the drop, he had to hole out from the fairway to tie. What did he do? Burned the hole with a wedge. Left it a yard away. In a fair game, he would have tapped in and heard one last ovation. Instead, he missed the last putt.

He pulled the ball out of the hole and, from a foot away, disgustedly tried to throw it down into the cup. And missed.

"I'm sick about this," he said, his sweat-soaked shirt clinging to his body. But he also looked proud.

The history books will say he shot 77 on a day when 74 would have won. They'll say he took a crazy gamble on the last hole. Maybe so. But it does not seem that way. Somehow, it almost feels like he won.