Originally Published: April 18, 2010

For Davis, karma will pay dividends

Sobel By Jason Sobel
ESPN.com
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All is right in the land of Harbour Town once again.

For a decade, every edition of the Verizon Heritage was won by 3 strokes or fewer -- and in many cases, much fewer. Last year's contest was a snoozer for everyone not named Brian Gay, though, as he ran away with the title in convincing fashion.

And no, I'm not referring to the tartan jacket as "convincing fashion."

This time around, we were treated to an event in which 20 players were within a stroke of the lead as late as Saturday afternoon. The final leaderboard will forever show that Jim Furyk prevailed over Brian Davis in a playoff, but it hardly tells the entire story.

The W18 begins with the tale of Davis' woe -- and why it wasn't as commendable as most people seem to believe.

1. The life of Brian

In between debates and discussions on the NBA playoffs, the upcoming NFL draft and early-season Major League Baseball, I'm guessing many sports radio talk shows across the country that don't normally talk about non-major golf tournaments will be touching on the decision made by Brian Davis on the first playoff hole at the Heritage.

A little background: Down by a single stroke heading to the final hole of regulation, Davis took dead aim at a precariously positioned flagstick, nearly hitting it before watching his ball bound past the hole. He dropped in the ensuing birdie putt, which eventually forced a playoff when playing partner Jim Furyk posted a par.

On the opening extra hole, Davis attempted to hit the same shot, but pulled it left into the hazard that separates Harbour Town from the adjacent Calibogue Sound. From there, he decided to play the ball from the packed sand, pitching over the rocks and onto the front part of the green.

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Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesBrian Davis struck a loose impediment on his backswing after hitting his third shot on the first playoff hole Sunday at Harbor Town. The ensuing penalty finished off his hopes of winning a first PGA Tour event.

Before his ball had even stopped rolling, though, Davis was motioning for rules official Slugger White. Unbeknownst to anyone else in attendance, the three-time PGA Tour runner-up had clipped a loose impediment on his backswing, resulting in a 2-stroke penalty which ultimately conceded the victory to Furyk.

"Unfortunately, when I was making the swing, I wasn't 100 percent sure whether I caught the twig or not," Davis said later. "I told Slugger, 'I'm not 100 percent sure, but pretty sure I saw it move out of the corner of my eye, because I didn't feel it.' And he said, 'We'll go to the TV and check it.' They checked it and they said, 'Yes, it did move -- barely.' And then obviously we had to check that it was classified as a loose impediment, so it's a 2-shot penalty unfortunately."

Expect those radio airwaves to be burning up with effusive praise for Davis' decision. Most talking heads will call him classy for the self-imposed penalty. Others will call him crazy for giving up a chance to claim his first U.S. title. And almost all of them will preach about the imbalance between golf and other sports, comparing this incident to an outfielder admitting he trapped a fly ball or a wide receiver confessing that he only had one foot in bounds.

But golf is just ... different.

This is both a game of rules and of honor, one in which players police themselves and assess penalties even for most inconspicuous violations. This has nothing to do with wanting to accept praise for making the right decision and everything to do with playing by the rules -- without exception.

Perhaps now would be a good time to recall Bobby Jones' situation at the 1925 U.S. Open. In a playoff at Worcester CC, the career amateur believed his ball moved before an iron shot. Though nobody else witnessed this, Jones called a 2-stroke penalty on himself and would later lose by a single shot. When he was applauded for his decision afterward, he famously said, "You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank."

Don't get me wrong. Davis made the right move and should be commended for upholding the standards of the game. He is no hero in this situation, though. Perhaps it's naīve to suggest that any professional in his position would have issued the same assessment, but the letter of the law states not that he should make this call, but he must do so in this scenario.

That doesn't mean it wasn't an unfortunate circumstance.

"It's a shame, really," Furyk said. "I feel badly for him. To play as well as he did all day, to come down the stretch and birdie 18, have some momentum, then for me to win that way -- obviously, I'm happy that I won, but I feel badly for him. I also respect him a lot for calling it to everyone's attention and bringing it up. It's just a shame."

If it's any consolation for Davis, he was left with a double-bogey attempt -- par without the penalty -- of about 40 feet and while he didn't spend very long assessing the matter, he missed and likely would have missed anyway, while Furyk calmly rapped in his par effort, meaning the penalty may not have affected the outcome anyway.

Afterward, Davis appeared saddened but with a clear conscience, knowing he had made the proper call in alerting the official of his breach. If he is to be praised for anything in this scenario, it's the positive attitude he displayed, answering a query about the disappointment with this plum of a response: "You know, I shouldn't have hit in the hazard, should I?"

Davis might have stripped himself of a potential first PGA Tour victory by calling attention to this violation, but we haven't seen the last of him. The golf gods have a habit of repaying such efforts, and the ensuing karma can work in mysterious ways.

Three up

2. Jim Furyk

From 1994 -- when they were both rookies on the PGA Tour -- through 2008, Furyk and Ernie Els combined for 29 total victories, never enduring an entire season without one of them finding the winner's circle.

That streak came to an end last year, when neither player claimed the hardware in an official tournament, going a combined 0-for-42.

What a difference a year makes.

Seventeen events into this season, the two longtime veterans are the only multiple winners so far, as Furyk joined Els on that exclusive list with a victory at the Heritage on Sunday.

It is another player with whom Furyk is now being compared, though, as his career totals of 15 victories and one major title equal the exact exploits of Fred Couples. Are such numbers enough to get each one into the World Golf Hall of Fame? That might be a discussion for another column, but this much should be true: If it's enough for one of 'em, it's enough for the other, too.

While Freddie is busy dominating the senior circuit and making cameos on major championship leaderboards, Furyk is far from the end of his competitive career. He will turn 40 next month and while his current run might not be the best golf he's ever played, the Pennsylvania native has proved he knows how to seal the deal when he gets into contention.

That included rounds of 67-68-67-69 at Harbour Town, which is perfectly appropriate. Known as a great ball-strikers' venue, Furyk fits the characterization, his unorthodox maneuver looking like something from a double-digit handicap; but he's among the most solid pros upon impact.

He has now tied his career best with two wins in a single season -- also accomplished in 2003 and '06 -- so next up for Furyk is to make a little personal history. A third victory would be his most in an individual campaign, break the current tie with Ernie and push him past Freddie on the all-time list.

Don't be surprised if it comes sooner rather than later. Furyk went 58 starts in between wins at the 2007 Canadian Open and last month's Transitions Championship. He now has two wins in his last four tournaments -- and as we've seen in the past, when he gets hot, he usually stays that way for a while.

3. Byeong-Hun An

Usually when the term "senioritis" is mentioned within the confines of a golf article, it's in reference to some of the geezers piling up birdies and paychecks on the 50-and-over circuit. An, however, admits he has senioritis of a different kind.

A senior at Bradenton Preparatory Academy, he can be excused for having thoughts on matters other than final exams and term papers. The 18-year-old is in the midst of a playing schedule that would leave most middling tour pros jealous, competing in some of the world's most prestigious tournaments while still in high school.

It's all part of the perks from winning last year's U.S. Amateur, in the process becoming the youngest champion in the long history of the event.

Known as simply "Ben" to friends, he missed the cut in his PGA Tour debut at Bay Hill, then followed with another MC at last week's Masters. Those results buoyed him to his first made cut in a professional event, as he shot 69-70-72-74 to finish T-59 at the Heritage.

"I'm getting more used to it," An told me via telephone after the final round. "I'm not as nervous on the first tee as I was before."

While at Augusta National, he stayed in the famed Crows Nest with the other four amateur participants and learned a lot about his own game in the process.

"I have a lot of things to work on, especially in my short game," An said. "It's definitely great to have this opportunity when I'm young. Wish I had done better, but hopefully I'll be back to play again next year."

A stalwart on the AJGA circuit, where he has received Rolex Junior All-American status for two straight years, he has already signed a letter of intent to play collegiate golf at Cal-Berkeley in the fall.

That doesn't mean he's just killing time until then.

Already with the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Masters Tournament and Verizon Heritage under his belt, An's upcoming schedule includes the Crowne Plaza Invitational, AT&T National, Memorial Tournament, U.S. Open and Open Championship.

Not a bad way to spend the summer before leaving for college -- and it's certainly reason enough for a serious case of senioritis.

4. Old guys

It all started in July 2008.

That's when an older Greg Norman -- and by "older," I mean anyone who is senior tour-eligible or close to it -- began this recent trend of familiar faces in familiar places on the leaderboard when he seriously contended through all four rounds at Royal Birkdale at the ripe ol' age of 53.

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Andrew Redington/Getty ImagesTom Watson, just months after nearly winning the British Open at Turnberry, turned back the clock at Augusta National with a T-18 finish at the 2010 Masters.

That might not sound old in people years, but in golfer years, that's ancient, considering the eldest major winner ever was Julius Boros, who claimed the 1968 PGA Championship when he was 48.

When a 49-year-old Kenny Perry was in contention two majors later at the 2009 Masters, that wasn't nearly as much of a shocker since KP is still very much active on the PGA Tour. That Sunday at Augusta still marked another potential successor to Boros' throne.

Of course, each of those results paled in comparison with that of Tom Watson during last year's Open Championship at Turnberry, when the 59-year-old was on the verge of his ninth career major before posting bogey on the final hole and losing in the ensuing playoff.

And so it almost sounded like old news when Watson, now 60, and fellow past Masters champion Fred Couples, 50, each contended at Augusta National last week, finishing T-18 and sixth, respectively.

During that most recent run, Watson was asked how his play at Turnberry buoyed not only his own hopes, but those of many others from his generation.

"I would have to say that there's been a certain glow about the whole situation, even though I finished second," he said. "And the glow comes from the people who watched it and who have come up to me and have commented to me about what they thought of it. ... A lot of them have said, 'You know, I'm not too old now. You've just proven to me that I'm just not too old.'"

He's proven it to the USGA, as well.

One day after his highest Masters finish since 1997, Watson was granted a special exemption for the upcoming U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, the site of his lone triumph at that tournament. We know these "older" guys can contend, but are we that far off from Boros' record being broken?

"It's a long shot for somebody, still, honestly, of our age to do it," Watson said. "But still, they can do it."

Three down

5. Stuart Appleby

Coming off a T-8 result at the Heritage -- his first top-10 in 13 months -- Appleby's inclusion on the "Three Down" list is more of a season-long punishment than for anything he accomplished in Hilton Head.

Of the 34 players with double-digit PGA Tour appearances this season prior to this past week, Appleby was 32nd on the money list with just $75,891 in 10 total starts.

That number was good enough for 168th overall -- increasingly familiar territory for a guy who for so long predicated his career around consistency.

In his rookie season of 1996, Appleby finished 130th on the money list. In the dozen years from 1997-2008, though, he was never worse than 55th and finished inside the top 25 on eight separate occasions. That streak ended last season, as he dropped to a career-worst 137th on the list, thanks to a final tally of just one top-10, two top-25s and 16 made cuts in 25 starts.

Due to those numbers, he was forced to use a one-time exemption this season as one of the top 25 players on the career money list, but his recent demise has seen some tangible effects. Previously known as the only player to compete in every single World Golf Championship event since the inception of the series in 1999, he has already missed the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and WGC-CA Championship this year, while also failing to compete in the Masters field for the first time since 1996.

And it's not like he's been tearing it up in the events he has played. Appleby made the cut in just four of those first 10 starts, which is a nice percentage for a professional baseball player, but not a golfer. His season best before Sunday was a T-30 at Bay Hill.

Not that there's anything wrong with a share of eighth place -- especially on the heels of so much strife in his game -- but it appeared Appleby was close to bigger and better results at Harbour Town.

The Aussie opened with rounds of 69-67, entering the weekend just a stroke off a three-way lead. He fell off the pace with a third-round 73, but bounced back nicely with another 67 on Sunday. For the week, he was top-20 in driving distance, greens in regulation and putting average -- a nice combo platter at any event, but even better on the short, tight Harbour Town track.

If he keeps it up, it won't be long before Appleby works his way off the "Three Down" list and back into the majors and WGC events -- right where he belongs.

6. Davis Love III

Truth be told, a man can only have so much tartan in his closet before it starts to look a bit unseemly. That said, DL3 wouldn't have turned down a sixth plaid jacket with yet another win at Harbour Town.

Instead, he made the cut on the number, then finished well back of the pack in 71st place.

"It's just nice to play a course you've played I don't know how many times," Love said after an opening-round 67. "For 30 years, I've been playing here. So it's nice to come in and feel comfortable."

That comfort level eluded him over the final 54 holes, however, as he failed to break par again, closing with rounds of 75-71-76.

It's been a strange season for DL3. Entering this past week, he had made the cut in just two of seven starts, but contended in each of them. Love was T-5 in his opener at the Sony Open and held the first-round lead at Bay Hill before faltering to 74-74 on the weekend and a T-14 result.

There was a silver lining to his week at the Heritage, though, and it came in the form of a hole-in-one, using a 4-iron at the 202-yard fourth hole in Friday's second round.

It also happens to lead to one of the craziest statistics I've heard in a long time.

Love is a 25-year PGA Tour veteran. He's played in 605 total events and made the cut in 473 of 'em. By my count, that means he's played some 2,150 rounds, give or take a few. With an average of four par-3s during each of those rounds, that means he's played approximately 8,600 of these holes.

And he now owns exactly three career aces.

That's a hole-in-one percentage of just .035. It's never easy to make an ace, but that sounds like an uncommonly low number.

Prior to Saturday, his previous two came at the 1989 PGA Championship and 2002 Children's Miracle Network Classic, which means he's now made one in each of three decades -- and completely skipped the 1990s.

Of course, he would have readily traded that third career ace for a sixth career tartan jacket -- even if that's too much plaid for any man.

7. Sergio Garcia

After 18 holes of the Verizon Heritage, the guy known as El Niņo was just 3 shots off the lead, thanks to an opening-round 4-under 67.

"I shot a decent round," he said afterward. "If I play half decent, I should be able to make the cut tomorrow."

That was a tongue-in-cheek sentiment, but one day later it was tinged with irony, as he headed home, the result of a second-round 77 that dropped him 90 places on the leaderboard.

It doesn't take an expert scorecard reader to understand what happened, either. Following a round that featured just a single bogey, he carded two doubles and five bogeys on Friday to finish a couple of strokes off the cut line.

This was Garcia's first MC in seven PGA Tour starts this season, but it's not as if he's been raking in the big paychecks so far. A fourth-place finish at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is by far his best result; he hasn't finished better than 37th in those other appearances, including a pedestrian T-45 at last week's Masters.

I'm still bullish on Sergio's long-term prospects, but it's getting awfully lonely on the bandwagon. While he's well on the road to becoming the most decorated Ryder Cup player ever, the 1999 PGA Championship runner-up at age 19 has now reached his 30s without a major championship victory.

He is currently struggling with his game, which not only shows in the results, but his confidence level and attitude, too.

When asked what the problem is, he stated, "Well, we're working on it, but it's taking time. ... Whenever I figure it out, I'll let you know."

Doesn't exactly sound like a guy who is ready to win a big one -- especially a guy who has seemingly been ready for such a life-changer for more than a decade.

Three wishes

8. I wish there was more creativity in professional golf.

No, I'm not speaking of courses giving players more options off the tee and around the greens -- those are always favorable conditions, of course. That's a separate debate for another time. Instead, this is about greater opportunities for different types of tourneys within the realm of the pro ranks.

This past week's inaugural Mojo 6 event fit the bill perfectly.

The two-day, unofficial tournament pitted 16 of the game's best female golfers in what is termed "raceway golf," with a total of 30 six-hole matches taking place during a 30-hour time period.

Still confused? I'll leave it to the tournament website's FAQ page to fill in the blanks:

"Raceway golf is a new, unique golf format that preserves the fundamentals of golf, while adding cumulative scoring and the opportunity to choose your opponent. ... If the traditional 18-hole tournament is a marathon, raceway golf is a sprint. Raceway golf pits 16 golfers against one another as they battle out a series of six-hole matches to crown a winner; competing on the same six holes throughout the tournament. Players will face new challenges throughout the tournament, as each hole-design changes after each round, and players must strategize by picking their opponents."

That's right -- players picked their opponents, making the event a combination pro golf tourney and fifth-grade gym class. And this is after an online fan vote determined the 16th and final player in the field, again deviating from the norm of most other events.

Is it a perfect concept? Not by any means. The truth is, it was a bit confusing to follow how players earned points, which ones advanced and whom their next opponent would be. It was different, though, and in a golf world where so many events are structured exactly the same, this changeup should be received as a breath of fresh air over so many straight fastballs down the middle of the plate.

The end result at the Mojo 6 was a frenetically paced tourney, ending with major champion Anna Nordqvist defeating fellow young gun Amanda Blumenherst in the final. It might not have crowned the best player over those two days, but if nothing else, it was an intriguing and entertaining system -- and isn't that the point of most professional events, especially unofficial ones?

The traditional 72- and 54-hole stroke play format isn't going anywhere, but instead of 99 percent of tournaments using the standard method, it would be nice to see this number drop to, oh, 95 percent. With even the 2016 Summer Games failing to capitalize on an alternative scoring system, it's about time creativity prevailed over the usual same ol', same ol'.

9. I wish I had the foresight to purchase a Callaway driver before the Masters.

Check that: I wish I had purchased many Callaway drivers.

I should've loaded up on 'em. Could have kept some for myself, then spread the wealth to others. Given 'em away as birthday presents. To the mailman at year's end. Random people on the street. Heck, I could have even held a W18 drawing each week and miracled a lucky reader.

But alas, I'm just not a smart enough shopper.

You see, any Golfsmith customer who purchased a new Callaway Diablo Edge FT-Tour or FT-i driver between March 12 and April 7 was promised a full refund if Phil Mickelson won the Masters Tournament, part of Golfsmith's "If Phil Wins, You Win" promotion.

Well, in case you haven't heard, Mickelson did indeed win, which means that thousands of other golfers were winners, too, as more than $1 million in Callaway driver sales will be refunded shortly.

"Phil Mickelson gave golfers across the country and internationally a great present to start the season," said Golfsmith President and CEO Marty Hanaka. "Phil's win is great for the game and wonderful for Golfsmith and our valued retail and online customers."

"We couldn't be happier that Phil claimed his third green jacket," said Brian Groves, vice president of U.S. marketing for Callaway Golf, "and that thousands of Golfsmith customers now will start off the season with a new Callaway driver."

Me? I'm not one of 'em. And since I failed to load up, potentially lucky readers won't be, either.

That's OK, though. Hindsight is 20/20, of course. Besides, my mailman doesn't even play golf.

10. I wish the Jerry Rice exemption doesn't portend the future for the Nationwide Tour.

There are those who believe the PGA Tour's developmental circuit should mirror that of a prep school, only used to help young talent mature and ready themselves for life in the big leagues upon graduation.

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Chris Condon/PGA TourJerry Rice shot 83-76 to miss the cut by 19 shots in his professional debut at a Nationwide Tour event.

While a large percentage of the tour's members fall under these guidelines, there are also many who are more identifiable as has-beens and never-weres.

It can be debated whether there should be some sort of age or experience limitations on those who compete full-time on the Nationwide, but this much is certain: The tour should remain for players who are pursuing serious careers as professional golfers rather than those who serve the role as sideshows on a circuit that doesn't otherwise receive much recognition.

As official host of this week's Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae, Rice was also granted a special exemption into the event. Though he finished second-to-last in the field (of players who didn't WD or were DQ'd) with rounds of 83-76, he hardly embarrassed himself and certainly brought fans to the golf course who otherwise would have owned little interest.

So, what's the problem?

Well, this may be the exception to the rule, but there's nothing to stop the Nationwide Tour -- or any other tour, for that matter -- from trotting out a local celebrity to hack it around with the pros each week. In the past, such ventures have been few and far between -- former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien comes to mind -- but in today's economy, when fewer people are purchasing tickets and there are seemingly fewer players who excite fans, I could definitely see tournament sponsors opting for this decision more often than ever before.

It's a bad idea, though.

Forget about the fact that such players will take a spot in the field away from another pro -- hey, if you're outside of the 155 eligible competitors for a Nationwide event, that's your problem, not theirs -- it takes away from the tournament itself. This week, officials issued multiple notes on Rice before, during and after his rounds had been completed, which is more publicity than any full-time player has received on tour this year.

Allow me to make this clear: I'm not panning the decision to include No. 80 in the field, just forewarning the troubles that await should this become the weekly norm.

There's a place for these players to showcase their on-course skills -- it's called the Celebrity Tour. If one of 'em is good enough -- like former major league pitcher Rick Rhoden a few years back -- he can enter Q-school and make this version of the big leagues that way.

Otherwise, let's hope the tournaments remain for the real competitors only, rather than anyone with a familiar name who might bring more attention to an event.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

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