On the back nine, Tolles and Montgomerie played keep-away with the lead, while Couples remained one back. "Hey, look at that," Couples said to LaCava, standing in the middle of the 16th fairway, checking a scoreboard. "Monty birdied 16."
"No," said LaCava. "He's behind us. He just birdied 14." Vive la difference. The strategy changed. Couples would go for eagle on the par-5 16th, since his two rivals would surely make birdie there and perhaps eagle themselves. LaCava put a two-iron in his man's hand, and Couples looked out at a sucker pin, tucked behind 220 yards of grass, bunker, lake, railroad ties and death. After Couples hit, LaCava said, "Get up." That is a very famous phrase between the two because it was exactly what LaCava had said in 1992, after Couples hit his final-round eight-iron shot at Augusta National's revered par-3 12th. That little ball listened. It got up just enough to cling, impossibly, to a steep pond bank in front of the green, defying physics and preserving an eventual Masters victory. This two-iron shot, though, didn't seem to be listening. It was going short and right and ugly. "I figured it was wet," said Couples.
But Couples is the kind of guy who could put a quarter in a pay phone and have it pay 100 to 1. The ball landed two feet beyond the water's edge, hit a little bank, then bounded crazily, unthinkably left, away from the water on the other three sides and to within 25 feet of the stick. "Another foot either way and we're in the water," said LaCava.
Then Couples stepped up and stroked the ball into the bottom of the little white cup for an eagle and a one-shot lead.
Tolles was standing on the 14th green at the time. "I've been [in the gallery at] the Masters," Tolles would say later, "and I have heard the crowd after Jack Nicklaus made birdies, but you don't hear a lot of roars any louder than the one I heard today for Freddy. It sounded like 20,000 people just won the lottery."
And after Couples went on to make a 30-footer on the island-green 17th for yet another birdie, Tolles said, "It sounded like those same 20,000 people won the lottery again."
The roars must have shaken Tolles's inner ear because suddenly he got vertigo. He hit his approach at 15 off a mound near the green and made bogey, then made nothing pars at the 16th and the 17th, and bogeyed 18. Trying to catch up, Montgomerie rinsed his second shot on the 16th and made the first of two closing bogeys.
So Couples had told the truth. He did not have any 63s in him, but he had a 64, which did nicely. "I hate to say it," he admitted afterward, "but it was a pretty easy 64." Standing in third place in the 16th fairway, he had simply reached out and grabbed the tournament by the larynx, going three under on the last three infamous holes to Tolles's one over and Montgomerie's two over. Couples won by four shots with an 18-under 270, reclaiming a title he had won 12 years earlier, the first player to repeat as champion at the TPC course.
So, what does this mean to you, Freddy? "I guess it gives me another trophy and some crystal and a bunch of money," he said. Worse than that, it means he has got to stay on the Tour until he's 46. "That's scary," he said. "I wasn't really planning on playing that long."
Tolles would strangle to have such a problem. "I guess the fairy tale isn't going to happen this week," he said glumly. Despite a third-place finish two weeks ago at New Orleans and a share of second place on Sunday, not to mention the combined $400,000 that came with those tragedies, he still looked like a man who would like to go back to Flat Rock and crawl under it. "I hope I do something different next time," he said, chin heavy in his hands, "or I am going to live a real disappointing life."