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It's rarely walk in park

Tiger & Co. know closing out a win tough

Jeff Shain

February 9, 2012

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A barber's chair sits in the locker room of the TPC Sawgrass — a confessional of sorts during the early days of The Players Championship, when wind-battered pros trudged in and were compelled to regale their peers with their worst hole of the day.

If this season keeps on its current track, the standard PGA Tour interview room is going to come equipped with a psychiatrist's couch.

Two weeks ago, it was Kyle Stanley holding back tears after watching a three-shot lead go glub-glub in the waters alongside Torrey Pines' 18th green. Sunday, Spencer Levin bared his psyche after blowing a six-shot cushion in Phoenix.

"It had to be my mind," Levin mused. "You get weird thoughts creeping in here and there — at least I do, I don't know. I think it was more my mind than my swing, just kind of wanting it a little too much, I think."

The tour's marketing arm might want to consider a new catchphrase just for Sundays: It's tough to close the deal.

It probably beats: These guys are good — until demons invade when front-running on Sunday.

Last year, only 23 of the PGA Tour's 44 winners took at least a share of the lead into the final round. The new season has seen two of five. Both are consistent with tour percentages going back to 1980.

"I think that's what people don't realize. It's very hard to win out here," none other than Tiger Woods said.

Woods fully commiserates. Sure, he had that stretch from 1996-2009 where he converted 36 consecutive times he entered the final day with sole possession of the lead. Eleven of those came in majors. His other three major titles came after holding a share of the 54-hole lead.

Then again, Woods has failed to close three of his last five chances with at least a share of the three-round lead. That includes two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi — vanquished by one-time club pro Robert Rock.

And, lest anyone has forgotten, Woods fell flat the first time he toted the 54-hole lead. He began Sunday of the 1996 Quad City Classic one shot ahead of Ed Fiori; he finished four back.

"I didn't have a card," recalled Woods, who was playing on a sponsor exemption right after turning pro. "It was big for me to get that card. … I was trying to avoid going to Q school."

A quadruple bogey at the fourth hole wiped out the lead; Woods later four-putted No.7.

Valuable lessons, though. Three starts later, Woods' closing 64 in Las Vegas caught Davis Love III for a playoff win. He won again at Disney two weeks after that.

"(The Quad City loss) showed me that one, I could get there, and two, where I needed to improve," Woods said.

Stanley proved a quick learner too. Now the lesson lies with Levin.

Meantime, the couch is open.

jshain@tribune.com