Bad day to be a favorite
Wow, what a Sunday – on the golf course and the football field. Unless, of course, you started the day in the lead.
First off, world No. 5 Justin Rose teed off in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship with a three-shot lead over unheralded Jamie Donaldson. Rose had led all week in commanding fashion, hitting greens and making putts. But his mastery never materialized on Sunday, as he was forced to scramble far too often while Donaldson – who only had one win in almost 300 career European Tour starts – was steady from the start.
Donaldson and Rose battled down the back nine, but it was Rose who blinked with a bogey on the 16th hole and a missed birdie try on the 17th. Donaldson, playing in the group ahead of Rose, three-putted the 18th hole for bogey, opening the door again for Rose. But Rose couldn't take advantage – his eight-footer for a birdie and a tie rimmed out, giving the title to Donaldson.
A few hours later, the Atlanta Falcons took the field in the Georgia Dome, and quckly jumped out to a 17-0 lead over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. But the visitors rallied, held the Falcons scoreless in the second half and advanced to the Super Bowl by a 28-24 score. I'd elaborate more, but I don't want to cause any further pain to all my colleagues back in the PGA.com home office in Atlanta. (Being a Dallas Cowboys fan, I know all about pain.)
Next up was the Humana Challenge, where Scott Stallings teed off in the final round with a whopping five-shot advantage that gave very few of his pursuers much realistic hope. However, Stallings struggled to a 70 on a perfect day for scoring – three players shot 62s – and, to make things worse, he bogeyed the final hole to miss out on the playoff among Brian Gay (who shot a 63), Charles Howell III (who shot a 64) and rookie David Lingmerth (who had one of the 62s). Lingmerth fell out on the first extra hole, and Gay birdied the second one to win his fourth career title.
After that came the AFC Championship Game, where the homestanding New England Patriots stood as 9-point favorites – an almost unheard-of number at this point in the playoffs. Like the Falcons, the Patriots started well, and owned a 13-7 lead over the Baltimore Ravens at the half. But the Ravens held the Patriots scoreless in the second half – just as the 49sers had done to the Falcons – and advanced to the Super Bowl by a 28-13 score.
The last event in our poor-performer pentathlon was the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the Champions Tour. David Frost led by one after the first round and two after the second round, and held on for much of the day on Sunday. But John Cook birdied the 18th hole, Frost couldn't match him and the two went to a playoff, where Cook won with a 25-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole.
So, to sum up the day for our favorites and front-runners: Ugh. But at least the golfers who grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory on Sunday can go right back out and try again. The Falcons and Patriots, meanwhile, get to go home and stew about their losses for six months.