Tim Clark's first win was fit for a novel

Tim Clark’s first win was fit for a novel

may9_clark_299x199_1.jpg
Tim Clark, right, with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, finally got his first PGA Tour win on Sunday.
Robert Beck/SI

The old man went by the boy’s house early on Saturday morning.
They drove down Ponte Vedra Boulevard. In the gaps between the
houses, they could glimpse the flat sea.

“Today the scores will be low,” the old man said. “There is no wind.”

“They should have wind machines,” the boy said. He spun his finger around.
“I’d fire them suckers up!”

They approached the Sawgrass development. A mechanical arm went up and down, up and down.

“I want to see Rory!” the boy said. He was young, and impetuous. The
boy’s parents had hired the old man to teach the boy about life.
He took the job, but he would not take the money.

“There is time,” the old man said. He had caught many great fish and seen
many great championships.

Rory had not made the cut. Phil and Tiger had, both at 141.

The air was still and the greens were
soft and the course could be had. The old man and the boy watched
Phil bogey the last for 66. Phil was signing autographs as Tiger
walked by.

“Hey, Tiger,” the boy yelled. “Say so long to that
Number 1 ranking—kiss it goodbye!”

The old man’s face went white.

Phil, the No. 2 player in the world, had just given an autograph
to the boy. He looked at the boy and said, “Be polite.”

Tiger walked into the scorer’s room and signed for 71. The old man and
the boy left the course in silence. In the truck the boy asked,
“How come Westwood licks his lips so much?” Lee Westwood was
leading the tournament.

“Because he wears white pants,” the old
man said.

The boy did not understand. He put on his earphones.

The next day was Mother’s Day. The old man and the boy returned
to the course.

The old man pointed to the ocean, choppy and
angry. “Today the scores will be high,” he said.

Then he told the boy, “Today we will follow Tiger. It will be your apology.” The
greens were turning into khaki rugs in the hot Sunday sun. Tiger
was playing with Jason Bohn. The two men talked about the course.
It was firm and fast, and they were pleased. The boy could hear
them, and the old man could read their lips.

Woods made a bogey on the 3rd and another on the 5th. On the 7th hole, he said to
Bohn, “I’m done.”

Bohn asked, “Is it your wrist?”

“No,” Tiger
said. “It’s my neck.” As they shook hands, the world No. 1—who
had won a U.S. Open with a stress fracture of his left
leg—flinched.

“Is that for real?” the boy said.

The old man said, “A man’s word is his bond.”

They watched Phil warm up. They saw him smash a dozen or so drivers on the range and then walk, with
his teacher, to the short-game area, where he hit a series of
beautiful pitch shots. It pleased the old man, to see Phil change
gears so quickly. The teacher had his arm on Phil’s shoulder.

The old man pointed at the teacher and said, “That is Claude
Harmon Jr.”

“Huh?” said the boy.

The old man thought of the swings Tiger made in 2000, before the boy was born. He thought
Tiger was close to perfect then, when Claude Harmon Jr. was his
teacher.

“Oh, you mean Butchy,” the boy said. Phil needed a fast
start. He made a par at the 1st. The old man and the boy walked
to the 2nd tee.

“He’ll birdie here,” the boy said. “Phil feasts
on the 5s!”

The old man, who did not like alliteration, had seen
many men make 6 on the 2nd at ­Augusta National, also a par-5,
looking for a 4 to get in contention on Masters Sunday.

When Phil tried to reach the 2nd with an eight-iron from 200 yards, the old
man gasped. The ball fell short. Ah, the old man thought, the
trusted wedge will come out. But Phil’s pitch from a bad lie was
the shot of a duffer. Phil made 6 when he was thinking 4, if not
3.

They stayed with Phil, right through his closing bogey, for
74. Still, he signed autographs.

The old man and the boy headed out again. They were looking for Westwood.

“He is a good man withhard luck,” the old man said. He was thinking of the Masters this
year, the British Open last year, the U.S. Open the year before
that. Westwood might have won all three.

“Westwood?” the boy
asked. “He plays for them.” By that he meant the European Ryder
Cup team. “Buy American, old man!”

The boy read other names off the leader board. “Lucas Glover! Heath Slocum! Davis Love III!”
Three Southern gents. The boy started singing, “Sweet home,
Alabama.”

The old man had spent his life at sea, fishing with
crews from foreign ports. His working eye went to other names:
Westwood, from England; Tim Clark, from South Africa; Robert
Allenby, from New Zealand; Francisco Molinari, from Italy;
Fredrik Jacob­son, from Sweden.

“Let us see if Lee Westwood is
selling ice cream today,” the old man said.

“The white pants,”
the boy said. “Good one, old man.”

They were starting to
understand each other.

When Westwood made a bogey on 14, the boy
said, “That’s a shame.”

They started to follow Clark. “I’m taller
than that guy,” the boy said.

“No,” the old man said. “He is a
short man with a long putt­er and a big heart.”

“How do you know
that?” the boy asked. “Ken Schoefield said it on Golf Channel,”
the old man said.

They watched Clark play the final two holes.The 17th green is surrounded by a pond, and the left side of the
18th hole is lined by water.

He made no mistakes over those final
two holes and, with a bogey-free 67, won by a shot over Allenby.

“He had never won on Tour,” the old man said. “Two hundred and
five events.”

The boy stood by a rope as Clark walked past. Other
kids put out their hands for high fives, but the boy did not. He
clapped, slowly and rhythmically. Clark tipped his hat toward
him.

The boy said to the old man, “He is a great champion, no?”

Suddenly, the old man realized, the boy was talking like him. “Did you hear him speak of Allenby? Of Westwood?” the old man
asked. “In his moment of triumph, he thought of others. That is a
mark of greatness.”

On the drive home, the boy asked, “What did
you mean when you said a man’s word is his bond?”

The old man said nothing. The boy asked, “When did Tiger hurt his neck?” The
old man said nothing.

“Tiger said his private life was boring,”
the boy said. “And it was not. He said he was fine physically.
And he was not. I should not have heckled him. But I ask you
this, old man: Is Tiger a great champion?”

The old man stopped the truck in the boy’s driveway. He looked at the boy and said,
“If you care about Tiger, give him time.”

Then the old man stared
straight ahead and asked, “Do you care about him?”