- Ron Sirak, Golf
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The schedule says the last major of the year will occur this week when the PGA Championship is contested at Baltusrol Country Club. And when the history of 2005 on the links is written, it will record Tiger Woods, Michael Campbell and this week's victor as the major winners of the year.
But those who evaluate success would be wise to add another name to that list of champions: Jason Gore.
How can you help but love a guy who had a chance to erase nearly a decade of failure on a Cinderella Sunday at the U.S. Open -- only to collapse to an 84 -- then used that embarrassment to become an even better player? All Gore has done since that Pinehurst hurt is win three consecutive Nationwide Tour events, the last of which on Sunday earned him immediate promotion to the PGA Tour. Gore, a slightly lumpy softy who sheds a tear easily, touches that chord in all of us that roots for the less-than-perfect to somehow win in a world where the cards seem constantly stacked against him.
For several magical days at Pinehurst, Gore was a household name. Then he had to go back to being a no-name, playing events called the Lake Erie Charity Classic at Peek 'n Peak Resort, followed by the National Mining Association Pete Dye Classic, and the Scholarship America Showdown -- both of which he won -- and then Sunday's exclamation point at the Cox Classic.
After finishing T-10 at the Lake Erie event, Gore reeled off 10 rounds in the 60s -- and one in the 50s -- out of his next dozen. Gore's 59 last Friday appeared for a while Sunday as if it would be bettered when he made eight birdies in a row before settling into a ho-hum 63 that earned him a spot in a playoff, which he won against Roger Tambellini.
Part of why it will be impossible not to pull for Gore when he heads out onto tour with his new PGA Tour card were the genuine tears he shed after his victory in Omaha, Neb.
To say that the 31-year-old Gore, who was a Walker Cup player at Pepperdine, was a disappointment on the PGA Tour would be an understatement. He made $180,451 in 2001 and $208,801 in '03 on the PGA Tour, failing to keep his card both years. His total career earnings on the Nationwide Tour of $494,164 coming into this season represented about half of what a single PGA Tour victory check is worth -- and it took him eight years to bank it.
All of that is what made the hugs with wife, Megan Ann, and son Jaxon William, who turns 1 in October, all the sweeter. Typical of Gore's soft side, following his U.S. Open collapse he was more concerned with the fact that he let his family and friends down than he was with how his failure impacted him. His magnificent run to the PGA Tour over the last month has eased the pain for all involved.
Gore soaked up the limelight at Pinehurst, waving to the gallery, mugging for the fans and allowing them to see the inner side of him that so appreciated the opportunity he was afforded. There are fewer and fewer professional athletes who let us see that side of them anymore, choosing instead to hide behind a wall of security men and a barrier of stoic cold.
Gore is a regular guy trying to do the best he can. For him, his victory Sunday before a handful of fans in Omaha was as special as his brief dance upon the big stage at Pinehurst.
"It was right on par with Pinehurst," Gore told The Golf Channel immediately after winning, choking back more tears. "I felt like I was right in the U.S. Open."
Asked if he thought he would fare better this time than on the last two occasions when he had PGA Tour cards, Gore laughed and said: "I hope so. I think I am more mature. Hopefully, I am more prepared."
Anyone who says that before this year they expected Jason Gore to make it back to the PGA Tour is either lying or a friend or relative of Gore. Al Gore had a better chance of having the Supreme Court change its mind and grant him that recount of the 2000 Presidential vote than Jason did of getting his playing privileges back.
He was 73rd on the Nationwide Tour money last year and No. 323 in 2003. He didn't even make it into the regular section of the Nationwide Tour media guide, relegated instead to the area labeled "Other Prominent Players," which really means "Guys Not to Expect Much From."
None of that, however, slowed down Gore.
When Gore arrived at Pinehurst in June he had won less that $30,000 in seven Nationwide Tour events. His rounds of 71, 67 and 72 in the first three rounds of the U.S. Open were impressive to the point of disbelief. Somehow we all suspected that what happened on Sunday would happen.
Of course, Tin Cup McEvoy would dump ball after ball into the drink on the final hole and give away the U.S. Open. Gore's collapse was not as dramatic, but just as traumatic. The surprise is not in what Gore did that painful Sunday at Pinehurst, but rather in how he has responded to that disappointment. For a lot of players, that would have been a career-ending collapse. Not Jason Gore.
Who knows where Gore goes from here? It is precisely that kind of human drama that makes us sports fans. This stage -- the word of athletics -- is a reality show unlike any that can ever be created by some studio executive. It's unclear when Gore will make his return to the PGA Tour as a card-carrying member, but whenever it is, I will be watching -- and silently pulling for him.
Jason Gore took chicken feathers and made chicken salad -- a challenge all of us are faced with all too frequently in life. Having him on tour is like having a family member out there -- for all of us. It will be fun to watch.
Ron Sirak is the executive editor of Golf World magazine.
The Nationwide Tour's Cox Classic isn't a major in the traditional sense, but with Jason Gore as champion, it will go down as a major story this year.