The Spoiler threesome hadn’t played five holes last Thursday when it all started to go terribly wrong. Lucas Glover, your U.S. Open champ, clipped a tree with his approach on Hazeltine’s 5th and then watched in disbelief as his artful lob from below the green ticked another branch and dropped into a bunker. A minute later Stewart Cink, your British Open titleholder, shanked an explosion shot out of that same bunker, his ball slicing over the green and settling behind a camera platform. Finally, Angel Cabrera, your Masters victor, punctuated his third bogey of the round by knocking over his golf bag and angrily tossing his putter at it.
Some in the gallery probably took satisfaction in watching the season’s big winners take it on the chin. Nothing personal, you understand, but those three guys had screwed up a season of storybook endings. Cabrera’s playoff win at Augusta deprived 48-year-old Kenny Perry of his first major title. Glover’s Bethpage victory broke the hearts of Phil Mickelson fans, who wanted Lefty to win one for Amy, his cancer-afflicted wife. Cink, meanwhile, practically had to hire a damage-control consultant after thwarting 59-year-old Tom Watson’s bid at Turnberry for a record-tying sixth British Open title. “Yeah,” Cink admitted to reporters at Hazeltine, “It’s a good point that ‘what could have been’ would’ve been a heck of a story.”
The reigning champs joked about their “spoiler” tags, but you could tell they resented the implication that they weren’t worthy. “I don’t think I have to validate anything,” a composed Glover said after his five-birdie second round lifted him into a four-way tie for second. “I’ve been out here six years and had a pretty good career.” Cink, a six-time winner and a veteran of four U.S. Ryder Cup teams, made the same point on Friday night by going to a Minneapolis restaurant and drinking Dom Perignon from the claret jug he won in Scotland.
The truth is, all three saw the season’s last major as a chance to spoil again — to maybe even wrest player-of-the-year honors away from Tiger Woods. (Two majors is a winning hand; Padraig Harrington proved that last year.) Cink, however, double-bogeyed his first hole on Thursday and was five over par on the 6th tee, while Cabrera, who would find Hazeltine’s fairways a little too narrow for his liking, spewed birdies and bogeys in not-quite-equal measure. Both players showed resilience … and then crashed. Cink made the cut and finished clawed his way back to two over through 54 holes but came unglued on Sunday and shot an 81 to wind up 67th. The burly Cabrera shot a two-under 70 on Friday before closing with a pair of 76s to finish 63rd.
It was Glover, therefore, who carried the Spoiler flag into Sunday’s battle. Tied for fourth after three rounds, the 29-year-old Clemson alum birdied holes 3 and 5 to get to six under, a stroke off the lead, but he made five bogeys the rest of the way. “I hit some loose shots and the putter sort of ran out of gas,” he said. “The lid didn’t come off, as they like to say.” Nevertheless, Glover’s fifth-place finish — wait for it — validated his status as a main-stage performer and made him a reflexive captain’s pick for the U.S. side in the upcoming Presidents Cup.
Unfortunately, Glover left before anyone could ask him what he thought of the journeyman pro from Korea — the Tiger killer, the fourth Spoiler — who will join Glover, Cink and Cabrera in October at the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. Based on his performance at Hazeltine, it’s likely that Y.E. Yang will go to Bermuda as at least a co-favorite to win the two-day event. And it’s an even better bet that Perry, Mickelson, Watson and Woods will not be watching.
They’ll be thinking of the storybook endings they failed to write.