short of the cup. “A good 10-footer,” said Montgomerie of the
par putt that appeared to be five feet longer. “It will get longer
over the years, you know, but it’s 10 feet right now.”
Whatever its exact length, Montgomerie sank the putt to
defeat Sauers, who would have had a three-footer to force sud-
den death had his opponent not made par. Thus ended a stirring
week for Sauers, 51, whose rounds of 69, 69 and 68 produced
a three-stroke lead over Langer and Scott Dunlap through 54
holes and had him positioned to cap a remarkable comeback.
Sauers, a Georgian well liked by his peers, had quit the
game in 2005, three years after the last of his three PGA
Tour victories, weary of his mediocre performances and
his relentless self-criticism. “I was kind of playing bad and
wasn’t having a good time, pulling my hair out and going
crazy,” he said. “I stepped away from it for a while, and then
2009 came and I started feeling bad.”
He was beset by pain in various parts of his body, his feet
at times so tender that he had to slide on his home’s hard-
wood floors in his socks to get around. After being plagued
by debilitating discomfort for more than a year and taking
various medications for what was originally thought to be
rheumatoid arthritis, Sauers was hospitalized at Duke for
seven weeks in the spring of 2011.
“They’re treating me with all these drugs,” Sauers said,
“and the next thing you know after taking them for six or eight
months, from a drug interaction, it was burning me from the
inside-out. Both my arms and both my legs.” He was given a
possible diagnosis of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a form of
toxic epidermal necrolysis. Sauers’ skin badly blistered and
eroded and doctors told him at one point he had only a 25
percent chance of surviving his ordeal. If he did, Sauers, who
envisioned the golf swing over and over in his hospital bed,
vowed to return to golf if he was physically able.
Two months after being released from the hospital on
June 1, 2011, Sauers took his first tentative swings. Within a
month he played his first round in years, shooting 71. When
he turned 50 on Aug. 22, 2012, he joined the Champions Tour.
Last year he had two runner-up finishes, losing a playoff to
Esteban Toledo at the Insperity Championship. “A bogey
doesn’t matter much anymore,” Sauers said of his new per-
spective on the game.
Sauers’ sidekick in senior golf has been veteran caddie
Tim (Smiley) Thalmueller, no stranger to adversity himself.
Thalmueller has been seriously injured in three motorcycle
accidents, was shot in the abdomen during a 1990 robbery
attempt and climbed a tall palm tree in Phuket, Thailand,
to avoid being swept away by the tsunami on Dec. 26, 2004,
that killed 200,000 people. (Thalmueller saved the life of an
injured man by holding onto him as he floated past on top of
the devastating wave.)
“We’re survivors,” Thalmueller said of himself and the
man whose bag he carries.
Sauers had a chance to close out the biggest victory of
his life on the 72nd hole, the temperature about 100 degrees.
Tied with Montgomerie, from about 200 yards on the 450-
yard par 4, Sauers hit one of the all-time great approach
shots with a 4-iron to six feet. But his left-to-right birdie putt
hit the right edge of the cup and missed, just as had putts of
similar length on the 15th and 16th holes—the first for birdie,
the second for par to lose the outright lead. “On 16 I should
have made that putt,” Sauers said. “I wish I would have made
that putt, and things would have been different.”
Always known as a better ball-striker than putter, Sauers
had performed up to his reputation amid the final-round
pressure. It’s hard to break old habits, but as Major Monty is
demonstrating, it can happen. n