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When It Matters, Ogilvie Takes No-Win Position

Position is the key to sports. Field position, pole position, low-post position, runners in scoring position.

Same thing in life. It’s not too hard to predict who will have the better night: the person outside the ropes at the club, or the person in the VIP room. It’s all about position.

Joe Ogilvie had it Sunday morning. Sure, there were golfers with Claret Jugs and Wanamaker Trophies and Augusta National-issued green jackets in the field at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, but none of them had position like Ogilvie when he stepped to the first tee. That’s the thing about position; it’s the great equalizer. All that horsepower under the hood of a Ferrari doesn’t make a difference if it’s stuck behind a minivan on a two-lane highway. Ogilvie was No. 1 on the leaderboard, the same place he occupied after each of the first four rounds of the tournament.

So much effort went into it. All of the time on the driving range, not to mention the year he spent on the Nationwide Tour in 2003 trying to make his way back to the big boards. Ogilvie knows, all you can ask for is the opportunity, the chance to be where he was.

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Then four days of work were gone within an hour -- and the only reason it even took that long was because the course was backed up.

Within the first three holes, Ogilvie went from three shots ahead to one shot behind Justin Leonard. He temporarily moved back into a tie with Leonard after five, but that lasted for only two holes, until Leonard picked up another birdie

When Ogilvie snapped his tee shot on No. 10 into the water, “That was pretty much the tournament,” he said. It lead to a double bogey. Leonard birdied the hole to go four strokes ahead of Ogilvie, and Leonard was on his way to his ninth PGA Tour victory.

Ogilvie is still looking for his first. He finished second Sunday, which was nothing new.

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Ogilvie held a final-round lead on the tour once before, in New Orleans last year. Then Vijay Singh birdied the last six holes to beat him by a stroke.

You’d think Ogilvie would be despondent about blowing this chance. That he’d be ready to jump into one of those lakes around the course and stay submerged for as long as his lungs could hold out. Isn’t that how you would feel if you were in his position when everything ended Sunday afternoon?

Well, Ogilvie couldn’t stop smiling.

“I’m pretty happy,” Ogilvie said after his round of 73. “I certainly didn’t play the way I would have liked today, but I got a pretty good front-row seat for a great round of golf.”

At least this time Ogilvie was in the same group as the man who defeated him, and he sounded grateful just to be that close to him.

“Justin put on a clinic,” Ogilvie said. “It was pretty impressive to watch.”

Leonard shot a final-round 67 to win by three strokes. With a lead that grew as large as four strokes, Leonard let his position dictate his play, choosing the conservative line on the greens, laying up on the par-five 18th.

Where Leonard was safe and steady, Ogilvie was erratic.

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Position, position, position. Why did Singh dominate the tour last year? He wasn’t the longest off the tee. He wasn’t even in the top 100 in driving accuracy or putts within eight feet. But he finished second on the tour in greens in regulation and first in proximity to the hole. He hit the greens three-fourths of the time and landed 27 feet 11 from the cup on average.

Ogilvie didn’t follow that formula. His approach shot on the first hole faded right, off into the rough. He chipped onto the green but two-putted. He needed to make a 12-footer to save par on the second hole, then he hit his tee shot on the par-three No. 3 into the gallery on the right. He pitched to within five feet, but as he waited his turn, he still looked agitated.

He took practice swings with his putter. Full swings. Tee-box and fairway swings, not putting swings. He was still thinking about previous shots, not the next shot.

Then he missed his par putt to the right of the cup.

As he walked to the fourth tee, he tossed his ball in a trash can.

He wandered around the next hole with an I-can’t-believe-I-blew-this look on his face. Then it all came back. He birdied the next hole and would birdie two more, but it wasn’t enough to overcome that horrendous start or the disastrous 10th hole.

“Normally, when I start to hit the ball like that, in years past, I continue to hit the ball like that,” Ogilvie said. “It’s somewhat encouraging that I got back together a little bit and I was able to hit the ball moderately better -- I won’t say great but moderately better.”

He said he wasn’t nervous about coming into the final round with the lead. In fact, he was struck by how not nervous he was.

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“Where are the butterflies?” he asked himself as he prepared for his first swing.

They were there in New Orleans, nowhere to be found in the desert.

So now that he has chased the butterflies, now that he has had an up-close view of a tournament-winning performance, Ogilvie is advised to go win somewhere else and then come back here.

The Bob Hope Chrysler Classic is a tournament that likes famous names, and not just in the celebrity pro-am rounds. Arnold Palmer won the first Bob Hope in 1960. Phil Mickelson won last year, and in between the list of winners has such names as Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and Fred Couples. Leonard has the 1997 British Open championship on his resume.

Joe Ogilvie? He’s so unknown, the hand-operated scoreboard behind the eighth green misspelled his name “Oglie.”

He did get some love from a group gathered in front of a condo alongside the ninth hole. Ogilvie’s caddie, Micah Fugitt, stayed there this week, and a bunch of his caddie buddies put up a sign proclaiming themselves “Ogilvie’s On-Tour-Age.”

Finishing in a tie for second, worth $413,600, made him happy. It was the first time he’d ever cleared six figures before the Masters, he said.

That’s the other thing about position. It’s always relative. Come to think of it, after playing a round of golf on a sunny day, Ogilvie wasn’t in a bad place at all.

J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Adande, go to latimes.com/adande.


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