The first thing I noticed that was different was that Steve was putting cross-handed, or left-hand-low. I've never seen him putt that way before; and he started by sinking a fifteen footer on one to save his par and halve the hole. On two, Steve sunk a bomb of at least forty feet for birdie to give the boys a one up lead.
On three, our number one handicap hole, Steve hit his second shot into some heavy cabbage about forty yards short and right of the green. He promptly hit a pitch that almost went in the hole, and halved the hole with par. Steve-O, it seemed, had turned into a damned short game wizard literally overnight.
However, after pulling his tee shot long, left and out of bounds, Steve made a triple bogey six on the par three fourth. In the past, this sudden lapse on Steve's part would be something designed to send him crashing back to his version reality; namely that the run of good play was certain to end. But today was indeed a different day. He continued to chip, pitch, and putt the eyeballs out of it and went out in three over. The match was all square at the turn.
I made a nice par on ten, which is really our toughest hole, to go one up. But I quickly gave it back making a triple bogey of my own on eleven with some real messy play, including a really dumb second shot into the trees on the right. On twelve, Steve chipped in for another birdie. I was lying three and had yet to even make the green when Steve holed his chip, so the hole was lost. But, not to be outdone, I stood up and chipped mine in as well to save par.
On thirteen, I managed to hit it in the pond off the tee--that's about the fourth time this year I've done that--and made another bogey. But fortunately, the boys also bogeyed, so the hole was halved. Steve and I halved fourteen with pars, and then, when I failed to get up and down on fifteen, Steve won the hole with another solid up and down for par. The boys were two up with three to play.
On sixteen, Steve hit his second shot into the right rough and then pulled off a miraculous five iron bump and run using a five iron from about 120 yards, under some tree branches, through some rough, and up onto the green. He narrowly missed his birdie putt, which would won the match, and we halved with par fives. The boys were now dormie with two to play.
I won seventeen with a par, and then hit a terrific tee shot on the par three eighteenth. We couldn't see it finish because of it being a back pin that was hidden by the swale in the middle of the green. But we knew it was going to be close. Not to be deterred, Steve stood up and hit a beautiful shot with his 27 degree hybrid right at the pin. When we got to the green, I was about eight feet left of the pin, and Steve was about four feet right of it. We were both pin high, but I had a downhiller and Steve was nicely under the hole.
I made my birdie putt, leaving Steve his four-footer for a half on the hole and the win. Sure enough, he stood up to that putt with his new grip and rolled it straight in for another birdie and the match. You just had to smile. Birdies on eighteen are definitely not a dime a dozen in Picton.
It turned out that Steve came home in 38, for a round of 77. I, on the other hand, had come home in 39, after going out in 38, for 77 as well. It was the best round I've seen Steve play. Despite that disappointing triple bogey on four, after his terrific start to the round, Steve just hung in there and used his new-and-improved short game to make a pretty damned good score.
Now, as someone who has appointed himself as Steve's coach, I'd love to take some credit for Steve's improved play. But the fact is he figured it out himself. It was his idea to go left-hand-low with the putter. And his improved play around the greens with his wedges is down to him going out in the evening and practising. Furthermore, I didn't offer Steve one piece of advice during that round. Why would I? It's not legal during a match for one thing. And, for another, I was too busy trying to beat his ass.
As for Spiros, it was a thoroughly forgettable round. It was pretty much a struggle all day. He did, however, manage to saw me off on at least one or two holes to contribute to the winning cause. Match play is fun when it's close--even when you lose.