Golf: Pavin desperate to find his trigger finger

Ken Jones follows a former gunslinger of the greens aiming to reverse his sudden decline with a masterly display of firepower
Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT CAN happen to the toughest of them and it has happened to Corey Pavin, his career in such disarray that he went to the first tee at Augusta National in free fall.

No golfer appeared to play a harder game than the 1995 US Open champion, nobody looked more difficult to beat or less likely to be confused by golf's technical mysteries.

Pavin had a swing that stood up under pressure, an attitude that many of his contemporaries envied, the cold eyes of a gunslinger.

Then came the decline that undermined Pavin's confidence. Fourth on the money list in 1995 with earnings of $1.34m (pounds 830,000), he plunged 164 places last year with no better finish than eighth in the Mercedes Championship.

Reflecting on the troubles that have overtaken him Pavin could not remember when form deserted him. "Last year was just horrible," he said. "Bad habits developed in my swing and I wasn't able to correct them. It got worse and worse as the year went on. I was 176th on Tour in greens in regulation and you can't play out here doing that. Not only will you be out of contention, you won't even make cuts."

This year Pavin has missed five of eight cuts, finishing no better than tied for 39th place with only $11,155 (pounds 7,000) in earnings, but he dismisses the theory that a change of clubs led to his problems. "If I didn't like them I wouldn't use them," he said. "Things began to go wrong 18 months ago and I have it difficult to put them right."

Now working with an English coach, Gary Smith, who was on David Leadbetter's staff, Pavin arrived at Augusta feeling that the Masters would be another turning point in his 17-year professional career.

Going off into a cross wind that all the competitors would find troublesome, in some cases more than could be coped with, Pavin dropped a shot at the second, but made two birdies to reach the turn at one over.

Crossing to the 10th tee, Pavin felt the wind from his right and across at the wavering branches of tall pines. Taking a similar line to his playing partner, David Toms, steely-eyed in concentration, the Californian sent his drive into the perfect position, finding the left side of a wide depression on the fairway.

Applause rippled from the gallery, but Pavin's second was less than perfect leaving him with a tricky long putt that slid seven feet past. Two from there. Back to level par.

So to Amen Corner. With expert judgement and club selection, Pavin foiled the wind with a four-iron to the 11th green that set up a comfortable two putt par.

Many have found disaster at the 12th, either finding water in front of the green or the bunker behind. Pavin's chip back went six feet past and two putts cost him another shot.

It was after hitting a sand wedge to two-and-a-half feet at the 15th, and despite bogeying the next, that Pavin felt his game to be in much better order. "That's the best round I've played since - no I don't want to think about how long," he said after finishing one over. "That's a good score in these conditions and I'm delighted to be hitting the ball good again. Only thing was that my putter let me down."

Pavin's victory in the US Open removed the curse of being known as the best player never to win a major championship. "But this is the baby I most want," he added. There was the trace of a smile on his face and the steel was back in his eyes.