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round of silence

Published Sep. 2, 2005

Ever see that movie, Night of the Living Dead? There's a scene in which a couple holed up in a farmhouse peak out their window and see zombies, way off in the distance, walking around aimlessly in silence.

If you missed it, perhaps you caught Sunday's real-life sequel at Innisbrook. Call it Round of the Living Dead.

Professional golfers are so good at playing golf they can make a grown man weep with envy. But while they play like gods, they behave like monks, at least when a championship is on the line.

Too busy trying to win a golf tournament, the final group of the Chrysler Championship _ Retief Goosen, Briny Baird, Vijay Singh _ spent most of their day moving in silence.

This is the thing you notice when you follow the leaders from the first tee to the 18th hole. They barely speak. They just don't talk, particularly to one another. They spend much of the day within a club's length of one another, yet they often don't exchange eye contact, let alone pleasantries. There's the occasional, "you're away," player slang for "you putt first because your ball is farther away than mine."

Let's see, what else do they say? Uh, did we mention that they say, "you're away"?

There's no "nice drive," or "good putt," no "good ball" or "tough luck." Nothing like that. They play a round of golf together _ a five-hour round of golf, in fact _ and they hardly acknowledge one another.

They aren't being rude on purpose. This isn't about mind games or intimidation. In fact, if anything, they're showing respect by not distracting one another with mindless chatter about, oh, why the defending Super Bowl champions can't win consecutive games.

While amateurs drink beers and nurture friendships or hammer out the details of a big business deal on the golf course, the pros do the one thing you're supposed to do on a golf course: play golf.

They often hit shots _ particularly ones right after the errant ones _ so close to fans that the fans can tell what the golfer had for breakfast, yet none of the three spoke a word to the fans Sunday.

Fans talk to players ("Nice shot, Vijay," "Way to go, Goose" and the very tired "You da man!"), and fans talk to the ball ("Get in the hole!" and "Bite, baby!"), but no one inside the ropes talks back to the fans. Well, unless you count a quick wave or a tip of the hat from the player.

When it's Sunday and it's the final group and a check for $846,000 is on the line, golfers do two things: hit the ball and walk. It is not the time or place to catch up on someone else's wife and kids.

The final threesome of the day first came together on the practice range about an hour before Sunday's 11:40 a.m. tee time. They moved to the practice green and putted balls that brushed up against one another. Still, no, "Hey, how's it going?"

Then, almost like a prizefight when boxers weave their way through the crowd, the golfers, one by one, made their way to the first tee to the cheers of the 300 or so gathered around the box.

Baird, who has never won a PGA event and started the day in second place, stuck out his hand and with a quick nod said, "Vijay" as he and Singh shook hands. Goosen, the hunted of the three with a two-stroke lead, stood well behind and studied his golf bag.

After the quick introductions, each player hit his drive _ thwack, thwack, thwack _ and the final round had begun.

And that brings us to this burning question: Ever wonder what happens when a golfer has to go to the restroom during a tournament? There are portable restrooms on the course specifically for the players (they're much cleaner than the ones at your nearby construction site), but none of the three felt the urge Sunday. You'll notice they don't drink too much water or eat much at all (Goosen had an apple on the ninth hole, Baird had one of the 10th and Singh didn't keep the doctor away).

The round went smoothly enough, though Baird plays slower than Julius Caesar would right now.

The crowd grew with each hole around the leaders. It's strange how quiet hundreds of people can get when a golfer is standing over a putt that could be the difference between second and third place and more than $100,000. At times like this, you notice sounds you normally wouldn't notice: someone clearing his throat, a sneeze, a chirping bird.

In a big tournament, one that is close, you probably can hear the tension. But that never happened Sunday. The tension coming with a dramatic finish never materialized. Baird's wheels came off when he double-bogeyed seven then bogeyed the eighth to fall five shots back. His day was done.

Singh cut Goosen's lead to one after a birdie on No. 12, but two holes later the lead was back to three, and by No. 15 Goosen's lead was four.

Only then, when the outcome was all but decided, did the players start to loosen up and become more chatty with their caddies.

Until then, the players mingled only three times: Goosen and Singh walked down the fairway together on No. 7 and exchanged a couple of laughs. Singh and Baird shared quick talks on Nos. 12 and 14. And that was it. The only other time they spoke came when Goosen, after putting the 222nd shot of Sunday's threesome, was congratulated for winning the tournament.

On the middle of the 18th green, the three players exchanged handshakes, back slaps and smiles. They gave a wink and a shake to the caddies. Then one by one, they walked off the green.

In silence.